the First

The Grotto

It's like a fire is spreading up my legs and melting them down. I scream so loudly I feel like my ears are going to explode. I can't see, there are bubbles everywhere that cloud my vision. My lungs fill with salt water so I close my mouth, trying in vain to hold my breath. Is she trying to drown me? She pulls me deeper under the water. This is it. I'm going to die. At least the water is warm. I can feel myself slipping away. It's okay. I suppose I've lived long enough. I allow Marina to pull me through the water, dark spots edge into my line of sight. Soon enough, the world fades away.


"What did you do?"

"Nothing, Kai. She's fine, she has a pulse, she's not dead."

"But is she conscious? No. Is her tail a normal color? No. It's the color of a Royal! Dammit, Marina. You were supposed to bring a mermaid here alive and well. Harboring a halfbreed is enough, but an halfbreed Royal? Tell me what happened!"

Marina sighs, "I pulled her under and caught her by surprise so she wouldn't have time to back out. I knew she was in pain so I wanted it to go quickly. I forgot that she can't breath underwater during transition, so she drowned. That's all. I turned around and she was unconscious. So I brought her here."

The guy, Kai is his name I think, sighs, "What am I going to do with her?"

"Nothing. Stand guard until she wakes up, and we'll explain everything. I'll be right back."

"Where are you going?"

"To get her a new shirt."

The room falls silent, I think she's gone. I hear Kai move to sit in a chair to my right. I'm laying on a stone cot without a blanket, but I'm warm. I roll over with a sigh, not ready to wake up and face whatever it is I have to deal with. I feel something on my shoulder, I gasp and sit up. Kai jerks back, with a nervous smile on his face.

"It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."

We're underwater, in a grotto of sorts. It's filled with multicolored marine plants that wave softly in the underwater breeze. I'm laying on a stone slab that is pushed against the left wall of the cave, he's sitting in a chair next to me. After I take in my surroundings, I look back over to him. He's an attractive guy, probably in his early twenties, with brown hair, tan skin, and eyes just like Marina's. Of course they're related. He's shirtless, not that it bothers me, and is wearing an odd looking pair of light blue pants that match his eyes perfectly. Then, I realize what it is. It's a tail.

He smiles again, and extends his hand, "I'm Kai."

I take it, "Relia."

He releases my hand, glancing at my legs before looking back up at my face.

I look down too, realizing that they don't hurt anymore. I almost pass out right there. I have a tail, too. Its silver scales shimmer in the dull light of the grotto, reflecting a rainbow of colors onto the walls.

I look up at him, shock in my eyes, "What is this?"

"You're a mermaid, Relia," he laughs, "not even a normal mermaid. You're a halfbreed and a Royal!"

He laughs again, it's slightly hysteric, and runs a hand through his hair. He sighs so roughly I see bubbles float up from his mouth.

"A Royal? A halfbreed? A mermaid? How can I breathe underwater? How the hell am I not dead? Where am I? What does-"

He laughs loudly, it fills the grotto and bounces off of the walls.

"All of your questions will be answered when Marina arrives. She'll help me explain everything."

Now it's my turn to sigh.

Just then, Marina swims through the door, a simple black bikini in her hand. Nothing like the seaweed wrap she's wearing. Her tail is the exact same shade as Kai's, deep blue to match her eyes.

Kai "stands", and swims out the door.

Marina approaches me slowly, "How are you feeling?"

I sigh, "Honestly, not amazing."

She laughs, "Yeah, I get that. Here. Your other shirt is ruined so I brought you a new one, and a matching pair of bottoms just because."

She hands them to me, and I smile at her. At least she's nice. I glance down at my brand new crop top. Torn and dirty, it seems completely out of place here. I gladly take it off, and awkwardly turn away to unclip my bra and change my shirt. The bikini top really is simple, just black cloth with strings to tie around the neck and back. It's kind of skimpy, but I'm grateful to at least have something to cover up with. I loop the bottoms around my wrist a few times, creating an awkward cloth bracelet. Oh well.

"Can I come in now?" Kai's voice drifts through the door.

Marina smiles at me, "Yes."

Kai enters the room and resumes his position on the chair, his eyes briefly travel my chest before returning to my face. Marina clears her throat and drags a second chair over to the side of my bed.

"What do you want to know?"

I swing my brand new tail over the side of the bed to sit on the edge. It's even easier than moving my legs, it's lightweight. I tentatively touch it, it's smooth. I imagine this is what touching a fish feels like. I glance back up to Marina and Kai, who are staring at me expectantly. I think long and hard before opening my mouth.

"Where am I?"

Kai leans back in his chair, his arms behind his head and a lazy grin on his face, "My house."

She rolls her eyes and looks at me, "I live at the palace, because I was filling in as Queen while Selene was away."

"Why did you get to do it?" I ask.

She pauses, "Because I am the closest thing Selene has to family. She is an only child, and her parents are dead. We were best friends before she," Marina swallows, "left."

"What do you mean, left?"

"To put it simply, she was to marry someone she didn't wish to marry, so she fled with her secret lover. She wouldn't even tell me who he was. They hid somewhere on the island, rumor has it they had a child. They were found then, and somehow they escaped to the Mainland where they hid for eighteen years. Selene just returned to us yesterday."

"What about her lover?"

"I'm not sure about him, but I don't think he came back with her."

"Why did she come back now?"

Marina cocks her head, "I don't know. She won't talk to anyone, not even me."

I think for a moment before asking my next question, "My mother's name is Selene, could there be a coincidence?"

Marina's eyes widen a little bit, and Kai leans forward in his chair.

"Your mother's name is Selene, and you have the tail of a Royal…"

He and Marina exchange glances.

"It does kind of add up. She came here right when Selene did…" Marina says.

"We should take her to see Selene." Kai replies.

"Hello? Right here."

Marina looks over at me, "Sorry. We can take you to see her. Is that what you want?"

"I guess. But, what if she isn't my mom?"

"Then we'll have an even bigger problem." Kai says.

I sigh, "All right. Let's do it."

Marina claps her hands together, her pearls sway with her movement, "Great!"

Kai rolls his eyes, "Not so fast. Do we just waltz up to the palace and demand an audience with the Queen herself?"

Marina pushes herself up and places her hands on her hips, "In case you've forgotten," she taps her tiara, "I was Queen just a few days ago. I think we'll be just fine."

Kai sighs and rises, running a hand through his hair, "We need a cover story."

"Why don't we just say that Relia is a visiting diplomat from another portion of the sea? Her tail is not only silver like a Royal's, but it shimmers a rainbow of colors. She looks different from our Royals, so she can pass as one. She's special. Have you noticed the glow?"

Kai gives me a once over, "Why does it glow?"

I look down, my tail is giving off a faint aura, it makes theirs pale in comparison.

"I don't know." I respond.

"They'll eat it right up," Marina says cheerfully, "I'll go and see what I can do. I'll be back soon."

She leaves, closing the door behind her, and I turn to Kai. He smiles at me and offers me his hand. I take it and he pulls me up off of the bed, a wicked glint in his eye.

"Try it out." he says.

"What?" I ask, confused.

"Your tail." he smiles at me.

"How do you even use it?"

I tentatively give it a flick, and shoot towards the ceiling. Kai grabs hold of my waist before I can get a concussion, and pulls me back to the ground. I let out a laugh against my will as he pulls me in to his chest.

"Don't worry," he whispers into my ear, "I'll teach you."

He releases me and I turn to face him. I try again, giving my tail a light flick. I rise up to his height, grinning like a madwoman.

"This is actually kind of fun!"

He smiles back, "Okay, think of it as a propeller. It will send you where you want to go, it's part of your body."

"Okay…"

I think about gliding to the door, slowly angling my tail in that direction. I take a deep breath and give it a flick. I shoot forward and right into the door, which swings open. I fly outside and smack directly into a rock wall, and am knocked onto my butt.

Kai is on me in an instant.

"Are you okay?" he asks, worry creasing his brow. He's cute when he's upset. Wait, what?

I do a quick damage check, but nothing really hurts.

"I'm fine."

I smile at him and allow him to pull me up.

"Here, let me help."

He pulls me into him, pressing my back into his chest. He gently moves his tail, and we drift forward.

"See? Nice and gentle."

I can barely focus, his touch sends electric pulses through my body. I've only known this guy for a few minutes, but it feels like I've known him for ages. I can only nod.

All of a sudden, he tightens his hold on me and shoots forward, under a rock formation. I shriek a little and I hear him laughing in my ear as the water rushes past us. We emerge from underneath the rock arch, and directly into a coral reef. It's beautiful, with fish of all shapes and sizes swimming through the coral's holes. I can see every color and then some, but it doesn't last long. The fish flee as we speed towards them, hiding in any crevice they can find. Suddenly, he stops, and lets go of me. I turn to ask what's going on, but he's gone.

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