I usually like to jump right into the chapter, but due to the large amount of young fans of the show I wanted to add a warning here. This chapter, while not actually scary in my opinion, is much darker than the previous chapters and its equivalent in the original fic. If you would like to skip it, I will include a tl;dr in the author's note at the end. Enjoy!
Nate could hardly believe it; the Armstrong triplets were in the cafe. Talking to him. The Armstrong triplets, as in the grandchildren of Neil Armstrong and stars of their own adventure show. And not only were they in the cafe, they were entering the contest - the contest that he, Nate Cunningham, had created. Their camera crew followed their movements closely, and he had to fight the urge to reach up and smooth his hair. He refocused on what the girl, Abigail, was saying.
"Our producer and most of the crew have their own boat, of course, but we'll go with you so we can get a few nice shots of us with the locals before we win."
"Then we'll accept the half-million prize back here. Our producer is deciding between a ceremony or concert; should make for good TV." One of the brothers, the one with shaggy hair, shrugged.
"Speaking of good TV, are you sure this is going to be worth our time?" The clean-cut brother asked, and Nate bristled at the hint of contempt in his tone.
"You saw the video, so you tell me; are shark attacks, EMPs, crazy natives, a disappeared contestant, and possible mermaids exciting enough for you?"
"There's no such thing as mermaids."
"I said 'possible', not 'certain'. And, since you can't actually film out there, you should play up the mystery angle. They're protecting something out there; might as well say it's mermaids and stick that in your promos."
"That's not a bad idea," the producer said from off to the side, gesturing to his assistant who immediately began scribbling the idea in her notebook. "You should consider a job in the entertainment industry. Now, Armstrongs, let's get you to your hotel so you can rest up for your big day tomorrow."
As the triplets and their entourage filed out, Nate finally let himself slump down into his seat. The producer's comment had been an ego boost, to be sure, though he knew he had little choice in taking over his father's position one day. What bothered him was that the Armstrongs actually might have a chance of winning, and after failing to reach the island himself he'd taken comfort in the fact that no one else had either. Even worse, though he refused to acknowledge it, was the feeling of guilt that Nate had about starting this whole contest; Will Benjamin had already disappeared, and here he was sending three more to potentially the same fate.
Abigail's ponytail whipped violently as she squinted resolutely at the fast-approaching island ahead. Even in the early afternoon sun, she thought there was something ominous about it.
"How far until the drop off point?" She heard Austin ask the local, Nate Something-or-other. It was nice to hear Austin without his usual arrogance, forced to rely on the slightly younger man.
"Maybe 2, 3 minutes max. You guys should start getting your gear together."
Each of the siblings was equipped with a flare gun, water, survival kit, and sturdy boots. The crew came over to help them strap into their packs, then do hair and makeup touch-ups. Then they were photographed around the boat and filmed in short testimonials for the episode. Abigail rolled her eyes as Andrew preened in front of the cameras; she loved the spotlight as much as he did, but at least she didn't make a fool of herself.
"Alright, it's time! Kill the engine and lower the launches."
She thought she'd be able to relax once she was in the smaller boat but if anything her anxiety had grown. She tightened her grip on her paddle, rolling her neck and shoulders.
"You good?" Austin asked quietly from beside her.
"Yeah," She nodded. "Just ready to get this over with."
"Me too," Andrew added from her other side. "This place is giving me the creeps already."
After one more camera check, they set off, eyeing the warning signs bobbing gently in the water. As soon as they passed, a strong breeze picked up and something bumped their small craft. There were shouts of shock and fear from the ship behind them as suddenly the trio was surrounded by dorsal fins.
"Andrew, do it now!" Austin ordered. Andrew snatched up the bundle of bait at his feet and threw it as far to the left of the boat as he could. About half the sharks detached from the rest to tear into the fish guts. The remaining sharks lingered for a moment, one tugging slightly on Abigail's paddle, before abandoning them. Abigail gasped as a shadow the size of a school bus passed under the water beneath her.
The triplets picked up their speed to leave them, shoulders slumping in relief when they hit sand without further incident.
"What is that?" Andrew pointed.
They moved closer to the jungle entrance to examine the bloody sign flanked by human skulls. A shiver ran down Abigail's spine.
"Ke tanaav meluruu, manawa atauu e makee."
They whirled to find the source of the odd, fluid voice; a stunning, masked brunette adorned with shells and canvas had appeared between them and their ship.
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" Abigail tried.
The native girl repeated herself, opalescent eyes flashing.
"We don't know what you're saying!" Andrew called to her.
The breeze began to grow in strength. Again, the woman repeated herself.
"I think she's warning us." Austin said, raising his voice against the gale.
The woman continued to stand there, indifferent to the wind, as what appeared to be a tornado formed behind her, picking up sand. It skirted around her, moving steadily toward them.
"Come on!" Austin yelled. He grabbed Abigail by the wrist and pulled her toward the jungle trail. Andrew followed shortly after, shirt pulled up to protect his nose and mouth from the storm.
They ran blindly, not stopping until the beach was out of sight and the only sound was that of the jungle.
"Okay, what the fuck was that?" Andrew gasped, trying to catch his breath.
"I don't know, but it was freaky. She has to be one of the natives everyone's been talking about." A movement in the corner of her eye caught Abigail's attention, and she focused on the foliage around them."What the…?"
In the bushes around them, vivid flowers were blooming out of nowhere. In a matter of seconds they went from tiny buds to the size of dinner plates, in every color of the rainbow, bringing with them an enticing aroma.
"Something is seriously wrong with this place." Austin said, moving closer to examine one. He swayed a little, inhaling deeply.
Abigail made a move to follow suit, entranced by the smell, but her foot was caught on something. With great effort, she looked blearily down to find a vine had snaked its way around her ankle. It took a second to realize what was going on with her head feeling oddly cloudy, but when the vine suddenly tightened Abigail jolted out of her stupor.
Andrew and Austin, misinterpreting her, jumped back from the bushes to find themselves covered in vines as well. Abigail grabbed the small knife in her pocket and slashed at the creeper but it only made it tighten and another slithered out to attack her other leg. The flowers' scent was suddenly overpowering, and the three had no choice but to hold their breaths to keep from falling asleep. They hacked desperately at the vines, but when one was severed two more appeared in its place.
Abigail's lungs were burning and her vision was spotty. To her left, Andrew was the first to drop. He was immediately covered in plants. Austin was on his knees, slowly being pulled further down. Then he was down. Abigail thrashed, but, with the focus now completely on her, she was down in an instant.
Then, in the next instant the triplets were sprawled on the dirt jungle floor, no flowers or vines in sight.
"What. The. Fuck." Andrew said as slowly sat up.
"Ke tanaav meluruu, manawa atauu e makee." The chillingly familiar phrase answered before Austin or Abigail could.
Blocking the path in front of them was another native, a man holding a trident. He surveyed them impassively with gold eyes, before speaking again.
"You have trespassed, but the island has found you pleasing," His perfect English was shocking, and somehow more unsettling. "You will be rewarded with the riches of the earth. Follow."
When they made no move to comply, the man shifted his grip on his weapon and, taking the hint, the three of them rose. He stepped off the path and set off on a barely-visible trail wordlessly. They had to nearly run to keep up with him. At first there was no change in their surroundings, but then Andrew nudged his siblings and gestured at the path; strewn haphazardly along it were small pebbles of gold.
"Do you think he was telling the truth about the whole 'riches of the earth' thing?" Andrew asked.
Austin gave a stiff shrug.
"Maybe they just want to bribe us to leave the island."
"But then why would that woman have blocked us from going back to the boat?" Abigail replied. "Something doesn't feel right about this."
Austin nodded in agreement, but Andrew was busy scanning the ground for gold, now abundant on the trail.
"We don't really have much other choice, so why not play along? He's got that sick-looking trident."
They were winded by the time the man halted, and Abigail narrowly avoided running into him. He stepped back into the dense foliage and, after a short bow of his head, disappeared completely.
"How did he-" But Austin was cut off by Abigail's choked exclamation.
The trail did not continue in front of them; instead, it opened into a small clearing heaped with gold coins, silver trinkets, and glittering gemstones. In the center stood three life-sized golden statues.
"It's us." Andrew breathed, stepping closer. Abigail saw that he was right, the statues were indeed exact replicas of the three Armstrong siblings.
"This is too freaky," She said, stepping back even as Andrew reached out to touch the arm of his golden duplicate. "Andrew, don't-"
But it was too late. The golden figure seemed suddenly less substantial, almost like it was melting in slow motion. Andrew tried to remove his hand, but it was stuck fast. Gold began to creep up his fingers. Abigail made move to rush to him, but Austin held her back.
"We have to help him!" She cried, but Austin just held her grimly.
The gold quickly engulfed Andrew's whole arm, holding it stiff and immobile. As it transferred onto him, the statue shrank in equal measure. Andrew struggled desperately, screaming for his siblings to help, but he received none. Finally, awfully, he was choked off and once again there were three statues in the clearing.
"Let go of me." Abigail sobbed. This time, Austin complied, and she was free to step into the clearing. Fire roared to life among the piles of precious metals and gems, and Abigail stumbled back with a shriek. The fire was extinguished. She did not try again; her brother belonged to the island now, that much was clear.
"We can come back for him later," Austin said. "Once we finish what we came for."
"How can you still be thinking about that stupid contest? Our brother is dead! He turned into a statue! The gold caught on fire! It's like magic, and not the good kind."
"Do you have a better idea? We can't exactly go back to the boat through those plants and that tornado again. Do you want to stay here and risk that happening to us? Besides, I have this...feeling, I guess, that the natives know about the contest. We might get some sort of immunity if we win."
She couldn't think of any logical argument against that, and reluctantly followed him back the way they'd came.
Walking on the main jungle path again unfortunately offered no relief. Each animal screech or rustle in the undergrowth made the pair jump, knives at the ready. But there was nothing, and they traveled easily until they reached a shallow river. With no other options, they waded carefully through.
All at once Abigail found herself plucked from the water and held, floating, meters above it with Austin beside her. Standing on the shore, hand raised, was another native man.
"What the fuck did you do to my brother, you freak? Put us down!" She hurled her knife at him, but he avoided it at the last moment with blinding speed.
"You trespass on our sacred ground and now you attack our people. You have been judged, and the moon goddess requires a sacrifice."
Austin made a strange gurgling sound and clawed at his throat and mouth. Something solid protruded from his mouth, and it took Abigail a moment to realize that the hard, shiny mass was his tongue. It had somehow turned to glass.
"Austin!" Abigail struggled violently in the air, trying to reach her brother. Her eyes were watering, and she tried to blink the tears away but something was wrong; they felt almost sticky. She blinked again, or, at least, tried to, as she couldn't open her eyes at all. They were sealed shut. Abigail screamed.
They were deposited gently on the dirt on the other side of the river. Or that's where Abigail thought they were; she could feel the ground beneath her and hear the water behind her, but her sight was gone.
"Austin? Are you there?"
She felt his hand take hers and he made a muffled sound, but as she'd lost her sight, it seemed he had lost his voice.
"Can you lead me? Squeeze once for yes, two for no."
"Alright. Let's do this." After her initial panic, she felt oddly calm. They'd seen so many weird things already, and she'd already lost her brother; freaking out had done no good in any of those situations.
Austin tugged her forward, and she followed, feeling the temperature drop slightly as the sounds of the jungle enveloped them once more. There was almost a musical nature to it, and Abigail felt herself relaxing into it. Austin must have too, because he stilled and dropped her hand.
Austin did his best to ignore the glass settled thickly in his mouth as he surveyed the trees and bushes on either side. This adventure had been an extremely odd one, but he was a skeptic by nature and assumed that they'd been drugged and had imagined the strange events. It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it was better than the alternative.
Faint singing caught his ear as they walked, and he stopped to listen, mesmerized; he had never heard something so beautiful in his life. The words were indistinguishable, but something about it made him think of the ocean. The source seemed to be a small pathway through the jungle on their left, and Abigail had already begun to drift toward it. Austin, suddenly desperate not let her have the music for herself, followed swiftly.
The path turned out to be only a meter or two long, and they emerged into a tiny clearing dominated by a pool of opaque, glassy water. The singing was powerful, and came from a gorgeous dark-skinned woman who sat half-submerged. She ran her fingers through her close-cropped hair before extending them invitingly. The music swelled.
Austin and Abigail both stepped languidly to the edge of the water, but Austin stumbled and his concentration was broken. Now, as he gazed at the woman, he thought he saw something predatory about her stance. He tried to reach out for and call out to his sister, but succeeded in only a strangled sound that did nothing to distract her and she went blindly into the woman's arms.
The singing cut off and the pair disappeared instantly into the mist. Austin backed away, but something solid connected with the back of his head and the world went black.
Austin had a skull-splitting headache. He opened his eyes, squinting in the dim light, to find himself upright in yet another pool of water, at the base of the volcano this time. He was lashed loosely to a wooden pole behind him and, after ensuring that there were no natives around, he quickly untied the vines binding him. His escape was hindered, however, by the solid nature of the water. It was similar to the hard glass in his mouth, and his feet were stuck fast.
Booming thunder startled him as the sky, previously pink-hued by the oncoming sunset, turned stormy. Lightning crackled. Surrounding his pool, a dozen formerly-unnoticed torches sprang to life, illuminating a white stone mermaid statue at the volcano's base before him. Natives, including the ones from the beach and the two clearings, crept in. They whispered to him and each other in their strange language, and chills swept across him.
There must have been some sort of signal, because the natives all quieted and sank to a kneeling position, looking expectantly at the statue.
"Human," greeted a cool voice. In the place of the statue was a real mermaid, with flowing hair and silver eyes and tail. She reclined against a large rock, observing him without passion. "You have trespassed on my sacred earth and waters, have survived, sacrificed, and now stand at my mercy. How do you plead?"
She waved a hand, and suddenly Austin had a normal tongue. He felt like fainting.
"Y- You're real. Mermaids are real."
The mermaid's eyes narrowed.
"You were asked a question, yet provide no answer. Does this mean that you accept the charges?"
"Wha- No! I was just trying to win a contest, I didn't know you were here!"
"A contest? This must have been of the utmost importance for you to ignore the warnings. Tell me, human, what was your prize? Do you compete for a medicinal herb, perhaps to heal a loved one? Or do you come in search of knowledge, with which you may protect your people?"
"Er, actually the goal is just to get a picture in front of the volcano. There's a big money prize." He had a feeling this wouldn't go over well, but he was too nervous and shaken to make up a good enough lie.
"I see. And this…'money prize', you need it for some greater purpose? To donate, perhaps?"
"Well, I guess I could donate it. My siblings and I mostly just entered for the glory, though."
That was definitely the wrong answer. The mermaid's face twisted in fury, and there was a flash of lightning.
"You disturbed this place, disrespected the beings that live and grow here, to stoke your ego?"
"I'm sorry! I didn't know, please, I promise I'll tell everyone to stay away from here if you let me go! I'll never disrespect nature again! I swear it."
"The word of a human is worth nothing to me," She looked at him with disgust. "Since you have survived thus far, however, and have sacrificed your own blood, you will receive one final chance to keep your life."
"Anything. I'll do anything."
"Merely answer my riddle: What swims with the fish of the sea, and runs with the beasts of the earth? What protects the sea from the earth? You have three tries."
"Uhhh, a frog." His hands shook and he blurted out the first answer that came to mind.
"Wrong," She waved her hand, and his lower body froze solid. "Think hard, as your life is in your hands."
She froze him up to his neck. Tears welled up in Austin's eyes as he searched his brain desperately. He had been warned about the mermaids on Mako Island, but he hadn't listened and now was going to die for it.
'How could we have known that we were trespassing on sacred water and land or whatever it was that she said. Wait, water and land? Could it be…?"
"Mermaids?" His voice trembled.
The mermaid stared unblinkingly for a moment before giving him a warm smile.
"You are correct, human. My congratulations, and farewell." She waved.
"What? But you said I'd live! Someone, please, help! HELP! HELLLLLP MMM-"
Author's Note: Well, there's chapter 10! Thank you so much to all of those who have supported this fic so far, and to those who will in the future. As you can see, I experimented with going darker in this chapter and am toying with the idea of doing the same for certain other parts of the fic. Let me know in the reviews whether you prefer that or keeping it light! As for the fate of the Armstrong siblings...any guesses?
tl;dr The Armstrong siblings, famous triplets with their own adventure show, enter the Mako contest while Nate begins feeling a bit guilty. The siblings pass through various trials created through the Mers' powers and are picked off in the order of Andrew, Abigail, and Austin. Austin, the last to fall, makes it to the volcano and is questions by a mermaid.