When Omi reached the dwelling area of the healers and sorcerer he slowed down, letting his tail move more slowly, and his hands reach for his back to let the current carry him.
The dwellings belonging to healers were communal buildings. There was a central building erected with mud and stones were the sick were treated, and homes accommodating up to ten merpeople were carved into the soapstone rocks. The ocean floor was cleared, and only a small coral and herd garden was in the center, with a home for the cove’s sick.
Omi greeted the merpeople he saw hanging around. He would flash them a smile as he swam past the entrance of their homes. He knew the sorcerer lived a little bit off from their dwelling space, and he smiled when he spotted the herb and coral garden behind the building for the sick. He swam about the place in circles, before spotting the entrance to the cave carved down below.
With a small smile, he swam in, a bit surprised by how large the dwelling was. It also seemed to have about three rooms now, instead of just two like he remembered it having. It must have gotten expanded. Merpeople were not private by nature, so moving into spaces without care of who lived in it was normal. Omi was starting to get nervous, he hadn’t been to the cave in a few years. The sorcerer often met merfolk in the healer’s building or the elders’ council hall.
“My child.” Omi turned at the sound of the female voice that called to him. The sorcerer often referred to healers and caregivers in the cove as her children. He was soon face to face with the sorcerer. She was hovering by one of the room entrances, and although she was giving Omi a small smile, he could see the underlying tiredness in her eyes and features.
She really is using every bit of her magic. He thought, suddenly feeling unsure about what he wanted to ask her for. Maybe I’ll be asking for too much. He thought as he swam over to the merwoman, bowing before her a bit so that she could pat his head and whisper a small blessing.
The merpeople of Afibia and other coves practiced a form of ancestor worship. Their sorcerers were meant to be an embodiment of all blessing and power from them.
When the sorcerer was done she removed her hand from his head, smiling at the merman as he looked up at her. She was a merwoman in her prime. Her dark black hair had started to show signs of white hair, and her blue eyes were dimmer, meaning the blue of her tail was fading away as well.
“What are you here for?” she asked, breaking the silence. Omi bit his bottom lip, looking from her to the cave’s floor.
“I wanted to ask for something,” he said, looking back up at her. Her smile hadn’t left her face, and she still seemed to be interested in what he had to say. “I want legs.”
And then it happened, her face fell, and her brows knit in confusion. “Why?”
“About Afibia, about the poison—” Omi started before letting out a loud sigh. “I want to help, and I know how to cure the water,” he added. Of course, he didn’t know how exactly the water was going to be cured, but he knew he had to meet that human again to do it.
“Does this involve humans?” she asked, making Omi look away.
“A human. It involves a human,” Omi admitted before looking back up at Cranfia. The dwelling was quiet, apart from the sound of the glow creatures they inhabited the tanslucent space made in the ceiling to provide light.
Cranfia, the sorcerer, stared at him for a while before letting out a sigh. She then reached out for her hair that was done up in a bun, picking up one of the tiny snail shells that were attached to her hair via tiny vertical pins. She then took out a sting from the band of items around her waist, beading the shell into it before tying a knot at the end of the rope and holding the finished item out as a neckless.
“If you haven’t noticed. I’m dying too,” she started, looking at Omi in the eyes. The merman nodded, silently telling her that he could notice she was using her very life to compensate for the magic she was using to keep Afibia free from the black death.
“The elders agreed on twelve moons, I might die before then,” he admitted, making Omi’s mouth hang for a bit. He closed it, feeling tears whirl in his eyes. Cranfia might be the sorcerer of their cove, but she acted like a mother figure for the healers and caregivers like himself.
“This,” she said, stretching out the necklace she made, “will grant you legs whenever your body meets land.”
“Thank you,” Omi said, taking the object from her. “Thank you,” he muttered again, kissing the small shell of the simple neckless before putting his head through it. The shell rested on his chest, reflecting tiny little glints — Cranfia’s magic.
“It won’t give you full human speech,” she added, making Omi look over at her. He assumed she couldn’t afford to use so much magic in her state. “Your speech will be very limited. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s no problem,” he mentioned again. “Thank you for trusting me.”
“You can come back — you should be coming back frequently. All you have to do is take off the necklace,” she muttered, smiling again. Omi smiled, looking down at the sorcerer’s faded blue tale. Unlike the rest of the merpeople, her tail was forked, meaning she had four body length fins instead of two.
Omi nodded at her words, turning and making to swim to upwards towards the entrance. He paused, looking back down. “Is this okay? What about the elders?” Permissions to go up the water were usually granted by them, even though Omi himself ignored the rule from time to time. This was more serious — he was going to head to land — on legs. He started to think about that, and his heartbeat quicken. His quick easy solution suddenly seemed silly. Could he even walk on legs? What would he do when he met the human?
“I’ll have a talk with the council, don’t worry,” she said with a smile. Omi seemed hesitant, but he eventually took her word for it and swam out of her dwelling and into the open waters. He looked upwards, taking a deep breath before he started his swim upwards.
The water was cooler than it was about an hour ago, meaning that night had passed, and the day had begun. The fish that swam around him as he made his way upwards seemed to ask if he was a madman with their beady black eyes. They knew what was up there. They knew the death.
Omi avoided other merpeople when he could, and soon he was passed the lights made by putting glowing creatures into translucent objects. He was past Afibia and was now swimming up towards the sunlight above.
He started to think of what he would do — what he would say, but he wouldn’t know the limits of his speech until he got to the shore and gained the feet Cranfia had said he would have. Omi also wondered if his skin would stay the same. Would he still have the scales on the sides of his neck? Would his skin look rough and dotted with pours like the skin of humans did?
Would he become a man or just a merman with legs?
His curiosity was heightened, and when he started to see the dancing oils reflecting different colors because of the sunlight his heartbeat felt like it stopped. He paused swimming, hovering just below the surface of the water before breaking out when he started to feel choked by the poisoned water.
“It’s you again.” Omi froze, turning his head to the side to find the human standing by the shore staring right at him with his dark eyes.