Thor does his best not to move as the humans struggle to get him out of the tank. One of them is so young, so small, that he can barely reach the top of the tank. Thor wants to make it as easy for them as possible to carry him, but all of his instincts are screaming at him to move! He can hear Shao’s wailing, mourningful with undertones of fear and rage. The thought of him facing down Annie makes Thor shake with anger. They can’t let her can’t get ahold of him again. They can’t let her get ahold of any merfolk again.
Thor’s mind is still fogged with sickness but he raises his voice, singing I’m coming, I’m coming, I will be free! Shao’s voice is joined by Carmelita’s, Mylene’s, and Tanya’s, a chorus of we wait for you, come to safety, come back to us that the humans around him can’t hear and wouldn’t understand even if they could.
He’s jolted out of his song as they manage to get him over the lip of the tank, almost dropping him in the process. He hisses in pain, trying to think only of the open sea outside and of Dizzee’s cursing next to him, still trying to hold him up. The two youngest boys lose their grip on Thor’s slick scales and his tail goes crashing to the ground, drawing a scream out of him. He sprawls on the ground, his mind ringing with the pain wracking his body, missing out on what Dizzee is saying.
The other humans back away and suddenly there is the familiar clutch of Dizzee’s arms under his shoulders and the crook of his tail. He rises, struggling to stand up with Thor in his arms. There’s a moment of hesitation as his hands slip, and Thor curls into him instinctively, a hand coming to rest on his chest. He looks up to see his face determined but strained. Fear seizes him; worse than when the nets first entangled him, worse than when the tank first closed around him, worse than the first time Annie’s cane came into contact with his chest. Harm to himself he can endure, but harm to Dizzee? That cannot be allowed.
Dizzee is rushing towards the door, his gait uneven and his arms trembling with the strain. The other humans flank him, preparing to open the door and make the run for the ocean. In the short pause, Thor raises his hand and cups Dizzee’s face, drawing his attention. He looks him in the eye and say with as much conviction as he can drag out of his battered body:
“Put me down. You must run, don’t let me weigh you down.”
Dizzee shakes his head, equally determined, grasping Thor tighter. Thor gasps, desperation coloring his voice:
Then the door is open and Dizzee is running into the firefight outside the cabin, head down and shoulders hunched as he darts towards the rail. The others run ahead of him, able to move faster, not weighed down by Thor’s weight. Thor struggles to process the scene around them: screams of pain, the song of his siblings, gun shots agonizingly loud. He blinks, the flash of gunpowder exploding nearby blinding him for a moment, and when he opens his eye, there’s the butt of a rifle aimed at the back of Dizzee’s head, unnoticed by him as he struggles to carry Thor.
Thor shrieks with everything in him, the painfully loud burst of sound freezing the attacking crewman in place for a short moment. Dizzee stumbles, equally shocked by the scream, and Thor takes the opportunity to slither free of his grasp. As soon as his tail hits the rough wood of the decking he coils it underneath him, using it to spring at the crewman who dared attack them. The man has partially recovered for the scream but it does him no good; the force of Thor’s jump knocks him to the ground, making it easy for Thor to tear into him with teeth and claws.
The man dies quickly, blood spilling across the deck and staining Thor’s hands, but the satisfaction only lasts for a moment before he hears a five fold scream: Dizzee’s voice, echoed by the song-scream of his siblings:
He looks up and sees Annie looming out of the gun smoke, her elegant pistol in her hand and and her blood red lips curled up in a self satisfied smile. His defensive scream must have alerted her, and she’s got the gun locked in on him; no distractions to save him now. Thor’s heart drops and he almost wants to leap at her, try to rip her to pieces, but he can hear Dizzee calling to him, panic in his voice. So he whirls, heading for the rail with the awkward half crawl, half slither of an creature not made for land.
He just catches Dizzee eye as he disappears over the rail, still reaching out for Thor but dragged overboard to safety by the human Boo. The other two, the young ones, cower just before the rail, frozen with fear as he hears the gun go off. He waits for the pain to hit as he leaps over the rail, but all he feels is the comforting cold of the sea water surrounding him once again.
When he surfaces again, he hears a horrible, pained scream and sees the two young humans falling towards the waves, the older one trailing an almost unnoticeable trail of red. He dives towards them, a new desperation rising in him as he sees the red beginning to spread into the waves. The younger human is thrashing, trying to stay afloat, eyes wide with fear as he shouts at his brother to swim. The older human is in no state to do so; Thor can see a smear of red on his chest and his eye glazed with pain. He’s floating for now, human’s natural buoyancy just barely keeping his head above water, but the waves could quickly pull him under.
Thor is almost in reach when he hears a terribly familiar sound; Annie’s cackle echoes over the water, crystal clear even with the sound of fighting so loud behind her. Thor looks up, fear clutching at his heart, to see her leaning over the rail. Her blood red robe shines bright in the smoke but Thor only has eyes for the dark cavern of the gun barrel once again pointed, unerringly, at him. Merfolk are the top of the ocean food chain, but he thinks Annie could very well be counted as a predator and him as her prey. Her eyes drill into him, the endless, violent determination that’s haunted Shao for years now focused on Thor.
He snarls; an useless threat display, and continues his course towards the humans, managing to snatch the younger boy. He shouts, fear reignited by a large toothy merman grabbing him with no warning, but quickly freezes as he sees Annie. Thor is surprised she hasn’t fired yet, but their firearms don’t carry many shots, and he’s come closer into her range to help the humans. He gauges the distance between them and the bleeding human, but trying to help him will likely get him shot by Annie, leaving the younger boy to drown. Thor curses and whirls to dive to safety, trying to ignore the human in his arms beating at him with small fists, screaming for his brother.
Before he can dive, he hears the bang of the gun going off and he flinches, curling around the human protectively, once again waiting for the pain to hit. Instead, he hears a shriek---unmistakably Annie---and the boy in his arms laughs. He turns, treading water, just in time to see Shao send Annie tumbling over the rail. The pistol slips from her hand as she hits the water and when she surfaces she sputters, struggling to stay afloat. Thor joins in the boy’s laughter, relief washing over him.
Shao meets his eyes, perched on the rail victoriously, and grins. Then his song changes and he slithers off the rail, singing:
Get to safety! I’ll get the injured human.
Thor sings his assent and then turns, spotting Tanya and Mylene in the distance, struggling to keep the four older humans afloat, including Dizzee. Thor sighs, glad to see he’d made it to their somewhat tentative safety, and begins to swim towards them. He’s ready for all the blood and death to be over; he wants to go home.
Shao leaps from the rail, glad to see Thor retreating to safety, and carefully makes his way towards the young human. Annie is still splashing around not far away and as he swims closer she glares at him. She curses, leveling the gun at him, but only produces a clicking noise as the waterlogged gunpowder refuses to ignite. Shao laughs at her, grinning as the disrespect makes her fume with helpless anger, and then focuses on the kid.
He’s floating limply in the water, long hair fanning out in the waves that are quickly turning red with his blood. Shao catches ahold of him gently, careful not to jar the bullet wound that’s bored through his chest. For a moment, he thinks the kid might be dead, but then his dark eyes focus shakily. Despite the cold and the pain, he doesn’t seem afraid. He looks up at Shao with awe and asks him weakly:
“Are you an angel?”
Shao doesn't like humans, but he isn’t heartless. This one is just a innocent kid, dying a slow painful death for helping Thor escape. He smiles at the kid and whispers as comfortingly as he can:
“Yes, I am. I’m here to help you. But it’s going to hurt for a moment, okay?”
The kid smiles sweetly and nods, his eyes slipping closed again. Shaolin takes a deep breath, bracing himself for what he has to do. He can see the other humans watching anxiously in the distance and knows this next part isn’t going to go over well. He looks down, trying to focus only on the boy so he doesn’t have to see their reaction. He grips the boys shoulders as gently as he can, doing his best not to accidentally claw him. Then he pushes with all his strength, forcing the boy underwater.
The humans scream as they watch him, their horrified voices stabbing into him like knives. There’s splashing as they try to swim to the boy’s aid, but they’re quickly stopped by the other merfolk. Shao winces as he feels the kid begins to struggle against him, survival instincts kicking in as his lungs fill with water, but he’s too weakened to struggle for long. He finally goes still and stays that way for an agonizingly long time. Finally he begins to twitch and seize, body regrowing his bones and flesh as the transformation completes. Shao can’t look away; the changing is as amazing as it is disgusting.
When his new appendages have finished growing, he once again falls into deathly stillness. Shao waits, desperately hoping the transformation has worked. Some humans don’t survive it, especially if they are injured.
The kid blinks his eyes open, easily looking through his newly formed transparent secondary eyelids to meet Shao’s eyes. He looks down at his tail, which appears to be the same bright red as Shao’s. He stares at it in wonder before looking back up at Shaolin, then back to the tail again. He laughs, expression muddled by the layers of water between them, and mouths at Shaolin: ‘cool!’
Shaolin laughs, nodding in agreement, and lets go of him, sticking close in case he needs a moment to get used to swimming with his new tail. The kid’s a natural: he only flounders for a moment before being able to stay afloat on his own. Soon enough he’s doing somersaults through the waves and cheering excitedly, waving at his brother.
The humans stares at the newly turned merman with a mixture of confusion and amazement. Shao grins, gently steering the kid towards them, before yelling:
“What do you say we go home?”
He can’t wait to leave Annie and her devastated ship behind. It was satisfying to finally get to make her pay for what she had done to him, but now he never wants to see her again. He wants to live free and unhunted with his new family without thinking about her. Then maybe he can finally begin to heal.