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The Under Series - Book 4

Undertow - A Merfolk Legacy book cover

The City wants answers, and it wants them fast. A messenger is sent to the surface, ordering the Council to explain themselves and their misguided decisions, a demand that effectively means someone needs to return to the one place they swore never to go back to: The City itself.

Meanwhile, after a few delays and more than a few misgivings, the talks between the UN Committee and the Council are finally happening, diverting merfolk attention to what the future might bring.

Divided between The City and the UN talks, no one is prepared for Admiral Coleman's deceptive plan, one that seeks to break the weakest links amongst the Brooks family and those around them.

From the depths of the ocean to the perils of high level diplomacy, the fourth book in the series explores what it means to choose between duty, honor, and family bonds.

Unfamiliar Places

The late summer storm from the night before had brought a welcoming chill to the early morning air, at least for a little while. For merfolk, warm weather was slow torture; and heat waves a sure way to die. Usually, Drake would avoid most of the northern hemisphere during the summer, but he needed information on those merfolk who refused to acknowledge the Council even existed. That meant getting out of his comfort zone and into the open.


In broad daylight, it was hard to imagine how lively the bars of this narrow Amsterdam street could be at night. As he walked, he was mindful of keeping his thoughts to himself, avoiding any unwanted telepathic collision with the resident merman. Through the decades, Drake had gathered a short list of merfolk willing to share the underground community’s health, a sort of shadow Council that looked after their own. With the way things had been going since “Ray’s” release four months ago, it was time to pay a visit to one of his contacts.


Too early for tourists and too late for partygoers, the street was deserted at this hour, especially since it was far from the more transited roads. This district definitely was not the first place he would imagine his friend living.


He checked the names of the bars, looking for the Thunderclap King. He did a double-take when he finally found it, a colorful sign below it proclaiming, Live Mermaid Show Every Friday and Saturday!


You gotta be kidding me, he thought, absently knocking on the door. The message was in four other languages, and judging by the amount of trash waiting to be picked up, this place had been packed last night.


The door opened a moment later, and the two mermen stared at each other for a moment. Broad grins broke into their faces, and a wholehearted embrace followed.


“Drake! I knew it wouldn’t take long for you to come see me, not after your TV performance.”


“I gotta stop being this predictable, then.”


Tall as Drake, Mikkel’s silver eyes and silver hair contrasted sharply with Drake’s dark features. When it came to looks, they were opposite sides of the same coin. They also were opposite sides on pretty much everything, from human politics to worldviews, from raising children to handling the Council.


They liked each other, as long as they met only once every few years.


The empty bar was more spacious than it had seemed from the outside. The air conditioner hummed at full capacity, greeting Drake’s cold-seeking body. Sunshine streamed through a high ceiling glass, showcasing red and green tables along the walls, with ample space for dancing in the middle. A large, water-filled tank, decorated in an undersea motif, stretched across the far wall, long enough to accommodate five mermaids without a problem. It currently was empty, but the question lingered in the air as Drake looked at it curiously.


“Ah, I promise, no real mermaids were harmed during last night’s show,” Mikkel said with a knowing smile. “It’s ironic, you know? We have two humans passing for mermaids in a bar owned by a merman who passes for a human. But,” he shrugged, offering Drake a chair, “the merfolk craziness is great for business. Everyone wants a piece of us—in the literal sense.”


It wasn’t an accusation. It was a fact.


“I know,” Drake said as they both sat down. “That’s why I’m here. I need to establish a secure line of communication with those we cannot reach. I need to hear what you have to say.”


Mikkel raised a perfectly thin eyebrow. “Now you want our input?”


“We’ve always wanted it if we could get it. Every decision we’ve made took into consideration everyone on the surface as best as we could. There’s never been a real way to reach everyone, and that’s by design. I want to change that.”


Mikkel’s eyes narrowed. Underground merfolk made it their business not to be found by the Council, yes, but it was also true that the Council was not a democracy at all. At best, it ran as a business hierarchy, with the CEOs making decisions for everyone involved. At worst…at worst, we’re five happy dictators ruling over an empty country.


It was a moot point. The Council had been formed to help newcomers get on their feet, and as the human world had evolved, so had their tasks. Now they helped maintain the secret, which also involved a great deal of acquiring resources, information, and invariably, making decisions. Decisions Mikkel here didn’t like for the most part, Drake knew. He just had nowhere to complain about it beyond making himself scarce.


“At least you’re asking nicely,” Mikkel said, finally. “What exactly do you want to know?”


“We’ve come up with a few ideas on how to deal with the human world in the foreseeable future. A few warnings, too. But we don’t know what you’re dealing with, or if you have some insights we’re missing.”


Mikkel thought for a moment, an approving look on his face. “You don’t want to know where we all are?”


Drake shook his head. “No population data, no. We’re too compromised with the US government and the UN to hold any more secrets. We’ve been able to hold the press at bay and to keep our heads above water, so to speak, but that’s not going to last forever.”


Mikkel leaned back in his chair. “There have been rumors, actually… Offerings in the black market to hire merfolk for black ops, espionage, that kind of thing.”


“I’ve heard,” Drake said with a heavy sigh. “They promise you won’t end in a lab if you come to them first.”


“You gotta admit it’s a nice touch to play with our worst fears.”


Drake humorlessly chuckled. “If you hear of any disappearances, let me know.”


“You mean when you’re not the one doing the disappearing yourself?” Mikkel asked with a pointed look. Drake winced. It was no secret to any merfolk that Drake had been in human hands. To this day, news stations kept replaying several times a week the merfolk videos that he’d sent to Julian. The internet could not produce enough theories to satiate its imagination.


“The problem with the Council is that it’s too centralized,” Mikkel said, an old argument between them. “If you are compromised, or worse, if you and Julian are both taken out of the equation, who’s to say you won’t give them every single merfolk secret there’s to know? It would be so easy to take the Brooks children for that kind of ransom. That’s why you don’t want locations, because you know how easily you could start telling what you know to your new human masters.”


“You’re right,” Drake said without missing a beat. Taken aback, Mikkel’s further argument died on his lips. “We’ve become complacent in certain areas and compromised in others,” Drake continued. “Until the last Brooks child is of age to leave, we’re sitting ducks out there. But while everyone’s attention is on us, then no one is looking at you.”


Mikkel leaned on the table, now intrigued. “Rumor has it you cut a deal with the Pentagon to be released in exchange for all of us.”


Drake barked a laugh. “There’s a certain Admiral Coleman who would have loved if things had happened that way. No, it wasn’t like that. No secrets were given, but I did make our position vulnerable, and I’m trying to fix that. Merfolk deserve better than to fear for their lives, Mikkel. We both agree on that.”


Mikkel nodded slowly. “What do you have in mind, exactly?”


“One hell of a show, my friend. One hell of a show.”



* * *



The Keflavík International Airport was half empty as Ethan Walker waited in the immigration line. The last time he'd been in Iceland had been about ten years ago, right before he'd taken a free-lance photography job for National Geographic. Since then, he'd gotten married, won a few prestigious photography awards—and the world had discovered about merfolk.


About him.


He readied his Canadian passport, fleetingly remembering how much easier things used to be. He'd been on the surface for the better part of a century, and he intended to stay here a few hundred more years as well.


He glanced at the cameras on the ceiling and then walked to the immigration officer. The young man behind the glass greeted him as he took Ethan’s passport and then looked at the screen intently.


Years of people-watching had honed his body language reading skills. Unconsciously, he held his breath. He knew how to read people in the same way he knew how to set a shot—and what his photographer's eye was telling him was that trouble was around the corner.


The officer's lips parted slightly, and his eyes stared unblinkingly at the computer, while his shoulders stiffened. "Just a moment, please," the man said in a neutral voice while avoiding eye contact with Ethan.


Beneath his jacket, white and purple scales faintly shifted on his shoulders. He had no way to escape if it came to that. It was of little comfort that he was here on Council business and that Drake would know if he suddenly disappeared. When two officers appeared to escort him, his entire back shifted into scales.


The corridor they entered became impossibly long. Stark white light chased away every shadow in the same way it was chasing away his composure.


“Is there a problem?” he heard himself asking, far away and barely loud enough to be heard. That his guards looked indifferent to his internal struggle was not lost to him.


“It’s just a short interview,” the one on the left said.


“A few things need clarification,” the one on the right added.


They didn’t say anything else. On the corner, a black camera lens unblinkingly stared at them.


They turned left, then right, and then went down. He was hopelessly lost after that, the maze of corridors they walked through becoming blurry in his mind. For the briefest of moments, Ethan tried to convince himself that this had nothing to do with him being a merman; but his scales wouldn’t shift back to skin, and his heart wouldn't stop beating so frantically.


A distressing eternity later, they arrived at a well-furnished room, with an expensive wooden table and four leather chairs—hardly the gray concrete interrogation room he’d been imagining. He didn’t know what to make of it.


“Sir?” his guard asked, and Ethan had the feeling they’d been talking to him before.


“I’m sorry, what?”


“Would you like something to drink? Coffee, water, a soda, maybe?”


He almost laughed at the absurdity of getting food. His two stomachs were tight as rocks, so he barely shook his head before the guards left him alone. On the ceiling, he tried not to look at yet another camera following his every move. Although he had his phone, he had no signal inside this place, which he suspected was two or three levels below the surface.


Beneath his clothes, he was losing the battle with his scales. When the back of his hands started gleaming white, he removed them from the table. He'd been in tight places before, but never like this.


Time slowed to an agonizing crawl. After fifteen minutes of being alone with his ever-darkening thoughts, he stood up to more closely inspect the photographs hanging on the walls. For a wildlife photographer, Iceland was heaven when it came to landscapes and dramatic natural events. From lava to ice, from thermals to snow, it was easy to see the many contrasts that the tiny nation had to offer. If Iceland became his new home, he wouldn't get bored for a long time. All he had to do was survive this "interview," or whatever this was.


Or just survive, really.


Forty-three minutes passed before someone walked through the door. A man in his fifties, well-dressed and official-looking, extended a slightly shaking hand in greeting. His eyes were rounded and his face flushed, and although it was clear he'd been in a rush to get here, Ethan was certain that this man knew.


"Mr. Walker, I'm so sorry for keeping you waiting. I'm Jón Stefánsson, a representative of both Iceland's government and the Nordic Council interests."


Ethan sat down at the same time Stefánsson did, now completely unsure where this was headed. "I was told by your officers that you need to clarify some issue with my entrance to Iceland?"


"To clarify, yes," the man said, forcing himself to not stare at Ethan. "Again, I'm so sorry for the delay," he added, finally getting his nerves under control. "Mr. Walker, we have reason to believe you might have—how to say it—a set of skills unique to yourself. We, here in Iceland, and by extension the Nordic Nations, are more than willing to accommodate any needs that you might have, or meet any requirements that might arise while you stay with us."


"I’m…not sure I'm following you, Mr. Stefánsson."


The official took a deep breath, looking for a way to rephrase his enigmatic offering. "We are aware that the world might be hostile to men and women of your…skills. If you choose us, if you choose to stay with us, we would be more than happy to provide protection and—anonymity as well. We want you to feel welcome, Mr. Walker."


Ethan frowned. "Skills as in photography?" he asked. Either Stefánsson avoided calling him a merman because he wasn't sure he actually was, or he was talking about something else entirely.


The representative's eyebrows shot to the sky, and for a moment, he opened his mouth without saying anything.


"Skills as in anything you want to offer, Mr. Walker. The only thing we wanted to clarify is that there are many reasons why we think Iceland is the right place for your kind, and we think you can appreciate that."


Reaching for an inner pocket in his coat, Stéfansson took out a card. "If you want to discuss any further details, please call this number. We will answer at any time, any questions. We are looking forward to working with you, Mr. Walker, and are more than happy to have you here for however long your stay."


Stéfansson stood up, and so did Ethan. When the man extended his hand again, it was with a firm grip. "So, with our utmost respect, we welcome you to Iceland. We hope you feel at home."



* * *



Julian Brooks had an identity problem. Most of his past identities had lasted him some forty years, as long as he moved from place to place to the point nobody really questioned his age. On any given day, he could get away with being thirty. When he was really pushing it, he could manage up to forty. According to last year’s birthday cake, he was forty-three and getting older.


As he walked to his office, the long and proud history of Brooks Inc. followed him through the halls. Dozens of framed photographs and news articles decorated the walls, displaying milestones that would make any owner proud. No matter by which standard the company was judged, it always reached the top spots, in part because of its impressive size and considerable diversity.


It made reimaging it or dismantling it in the short term impossible.


In the past, his identity had never been a problem when it came to his belongings, mainly because he’d traveled with all of them. He’d been too restless to stay in one place for long, to the point that he’d parted ways with Drake often, following the promise of adventure and exotic lands. For two hundred years, he hadn’t worried about wealth, or managing assets for the entire merfolk community, because there had been no merfolk community.


Now he had way too many assets and too many complications to plan a gracious exit. Aurel had already started a quiet bidding to merge Brooks Inc. with her own Japanese companies, a process that would take somewhere around three to five years. A timely disappearance of the CEO might accelerate things, though, a practical consideration when Major White followed his every move.


That the Pentagon had restrained itself from taking him into custody—or worse—was no small wonder, one he was thankful for every night that he came home to find his four children still free. As much as he wanted to trust White, Drake’s experience with the Navy had proven that all the government needed was a flimsy excuse to lock them away.


Right now, it didn’t matter how much he loved being Julian Brooks; this identity carried too many strings. The sooner he became someone else, the safer for everyone involved.


He greeted his staff and entered his office. His senior executive assistant followed him in as she detailed his agenda for the day.


“… and the quarterly report will be presented at 3:00 p.m. as you requested last week, so you can go to your son’s school meeting tomorrow morning.”


“Am I being a bad parent if I tell you I’m dreading that meeting?”


Sarah smiled. “The youngest are always the wild ones, aren’t they?”


He wouldn’t call Scott the wild one by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, his youngest was the stoic rebel type; and teenhood was only bringing the worst traits of that into the light.


Before he had a chance to answer, his cell phone rang. “Thank you, Sarah,” he said by way of dismissal. He watched her leave and closed the doors as he answered the private number.


“Julian speaking.”


“They want us back,” Lavine said in a shaky voice. The Council member seldom called him, and it was never good news.


“I’m sorry, what?”


“The City. They—they just contacted me not fifteen minutes ago. You’re the first I’m calling. They said they had complaints. That The City is in danger of tearing itself apart. That they couldn’t make decisions blindly. They—they—”


“Slow down, Lavine. What, exactly, did they say?”


“They want the five of us back, Julian. And they want us back now.”

Wanna know what happens next? Send me an email to and I'll send you the next four chapters in the book.

Undertow - A Merfolk Legacy is almost finished! Make sure to look for it in the upcoming months.

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