In the depths of a dark cave lit only by the dim glow of the rock known as lightstone, which speckled the damp, moss-covered walls, a figure crawled from an underground pool. Its legs were torn and bloody, and bright red blood mixed with water on the uneven stone floor. Its milky white skin was turning grey with blood loss and it shivered uncontrollably.
A wave of pain caught it and it curled tightly into a rocky corner and groaned in the darkness. The sound was thin and strained, like a voice long forgotten used again for the first time. Something else slithered from between its legs and slid onto the floor, where it lay lifeless and motionless in the end of the cord that tied it into its mother.
For a long time the cave was silent but for the uneasy breathing of the mother. Then other sounds came from a corridor by the pool, and firelight reflected from her large dark eyes. She was too tired to move, too much of her blood had flown into the water and onto the rocks. She looked wearily at the three humans who emerged into the cave.
"Deathtide take me, what is that?" one of them said, but she didn't seem to understand, only turned her head slowly toward the voice.
One of them, an old man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, knelt in front of her and brought the torch closer. She squinted at him and tried to shelter her eyes. The light glimmered faintly on the silver scales on her arms.
"I think it's a mermaid."
"But the merfolk are all dead!"
"Apparently not. Look, it's got a whelp."
"Dead, looks like."
"No, it's breathing."
A woman in white robes knelt by the motionless child and carefully placed her fingers onto the quivering chest.
"Ay, and it has a beating heart."
"It will most like die within the day, though. With its mother, if I'm any judge." The old man stood up and withdrew further away, pulling away the torchlight.
"We can't leave it to die", replied the woman gently. "The Sea doesn't suffer men to allow children to die without a fight, whatever they may be."
"We'll take them to the town", decided the old man. "Mayhaps we'll be able to save both."
"The merfolk were all slain for a reason", said the third person, a woman slightly younger than the other, dressed in similar whites and wearing an air of superiority. "They are dangerous, the lot of them. Drag people into the depths and eat them. You would save a monster?"
"The monster can't eat us if we keep it caged", said the other woman sternly. "Besides, no harm will become of this one. Even if she lives, she won't be able to use her legs. Look at them - whatever maimed her nearly took the foot off her. The child may or may not live, but I'm sure that if we were to raise her, she would not do us any harm."
The other woman looked like she was going to argue but ended up tossing her hands to the air and shaking her head.
"The Sea drown you, Selachi. Fine, we'll take them up. Don't come looking for me if things get out of hand though."
When they cut the cord between the mother and the baby, the mother let out a quivering sigh and closed her eyes. When they lifted her off the ground, her head lolled back and the old man cursed under his breath.
"Dead. Bet she only stayed alive for the baby."
The woman named Selachi had tucked the baby into a scarf she'd been wearing around her shoulders. The child was as limp as its mother but the small, delicate gills on its neck flapped open and close, open and close over and over again, showing them that it was still alive.
"What should we do?"
"Let's leave her here. We don't need to carry extra weight. I can hear the tide rising already. We should be far away from here by now", said the other woman.
When the last glimmer of torchlight disappeared into the tunnels, only the body of the mermaid mother remained in the cave. When the tide came rushing in she was washed away and drawn into the depths of the underground tunnels, never to emerge on the surface again.