I'm paralyzed, unable to move.
The waves seem to stop churning.
The winds seem to stop blowing.
The birds seem to stop chirping.
But all too soon we're back again, and Hook is looking for the source of the bloodcurdling scream that came from my lips. I'm diving into the water faster than I could have thought possible. I crash into Hook's boat so forcefully that it flips. Hook drops Kai into the water, where he begins to sink. Blood is everywhere, seeping from his wound and turning the crystalline water crimson. I rush forward and grab him, tugging him towards the shore and onto the sandy beach. I'm running solely on adrenaline, but my tears are falling faster by the second. Kai is gasping with pain. He's losing so much blood.
"Kai," my tongue feels foreign in my dry mouth, "Kai, please look at me."
His eyes flutter open, they're bloodshot and red, "Relia?"
I manage a tiny smile as my tears drip down onto his face, "Yeah. Yeah, it's me. I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault."
"Yes it is," my tears well up in my eyes again, spilling down my cheeks, "I'm so sorry Kai."
Kai wraps loose fingers around mine, "It's okay. None of this is your fault."
There's no point arguing. He coughs, blood dripping down his chin. I wipe it away as best I can with my shaking hand.
"Bring me to the water, please." his voice is turning raspy and quiet.
I comply as best I can, pulling his heavy body waist deep into the waves. He slowly reaches up and strokes my tear stained face.
"You're so beautiful. And kind. And smart. You're the perfect princess. And," he pauses for a shaky breath, "I love you."
Kai coughs again, blood spattering my chest, but it doesn't even register with me. He said it. He told me he loved me.
I can't stop crying, "Kai. I love you too. It's going to be okay."
I lean down and kiss his raw lips.
He gazes into my eyes, "I know it will be. Be safe. I won't be here to protect you."
"Of course you will!" I say sharply.
"Of course I will." he manages a weak smile.
His hand begins to slip from my face.
He can't bring his hand back to my face, his eyes slide closed.
Panic digs into my chest. No. No no no.
"Wake up, Kai. Please wake up!"
My sobs hitch in my ribcage, I can't bring myself to let go of his hand. Wait. I can heal him! I softly place a fingertip on his chest, prodding his wound. Nothing.
I press a little harder, urging him to wake up, to hug me again.
"It's not working. It's not working!"
I'm screaming to myself, but I don't care. My tears fall into the salty lagoon, mixing with his blood. My sobs are now way past hysterical. He can't be dead. This is my fault! Hook started a war over me. If I had just told him I was okay, Kai would still be alive. Kai wouldn't have to die at my hands. This is my fault. And I can't even heal him. No. He can't be dead. A huge hole seems to open in my chest, threatening to suck away the remains of my shattered heart.
Kai is dead.
And it's my fault.
I killed him.
He loved me and I killed him.
My body gives out from beneath me, I flop down next to him. He can't be dead. He can't be. I've been reduced to a sobbing mess. But no one is here to see. So it doesn't matter. I can cry all I want. Because he's dead. A hand on my shoulder makes me flinch. I turn to find Hook standing knee-deep in the water, his expression too hard to read.
"Come on, let's go."
"No. I'm not going to leave him. And I sure as hell am not going with you."
It may have been my fault that he's dead, but Hook is the one that stabbed him. I don't want to be comforted by Kai's killer.
He sighs, "We need to leave now."
"Why? Give me one good reason why."
"You're people will think that you killed him."
Hook rolls his eyes and gestures to my tail, "Aye, your people."
I don't even have the strength for a reply. My body feels like it's shutting down. I feel like I'm shutting down. I glance over at Kai, motionless as the tide laps at the blood on his chest. He looks like he's sleeping, but I know it's much more than that. My tears well back up into my eyes and spill over. I wrap my arms around his chest, resting my head on his shoulder.
"I love you. I love you so much. I'm so sorry."
Hook places his hand on my arm again, "Relia. We need to go now, love."
"No, I have to go."
He rolls his eyes impatiently, "Where are you going?"
"That's not important. You need to leave."
"Now you're telling me to leave?"
"Yes, I am. You need to go."
He tilts his head, calculating. Hook never trusts anyone or anything. That's a weakness.
"Fine. I'll leave when I know you're safe."
"Well, I'm safe right here. So you can leave now."
"So much for being a gentleman."
"Says the man who murdered someone less than five minutes ago." I respond bitterly, a bite in my voice I've never heard before.
He sighs indignantly, before turning on his heel and striding through the water. Slowly but surely, he gets deeper and deeper in. Soon enough he's swimming through the lagoon towards his small boat. He climbs in with one swift tug from his strong arms, and begins to row without looking back at me. As soon as he is out of sight, I slump. Kai's body still lies in the sand of the lagoon, his blood having long since stopped pumping. I still can't believe he's dead. I wince just thinking the word. Death is such a sad thought.
What do I do now?
I have to get to my coronation, what do I do with Kai? I need to bring him back to the city. Marina and my mother will know what to do. But the townspeople can't see him. So that idea is out. Peter? But how do I get Kai to the hideout? A breeze picks up then, lifting the air from my neck and drying my eyes. An odd twinkling sound fills the air, seeming to ride the wind. It's beautiful, mesmerizing. I only realize my eyes were closed when they flutter open, to reveal a man standing over me. He is dressed in a soft tunic and pants, with a bow and quiver strapped over his broad back. His eyes are a piercing blue so lightly colored they look like ice. They regard me cooly, calmly. As if he knows me. His stance is proud and intimidating. Nothing like how he was before. Tall, shimmering, transparent wings spring from his back, delicate yet strong. They glitter in the sunlight, sending soft flecks of light springing over my face.
I blink once, hard, trying to clear my head.
"What are you doing here?"
Instead of his usual smile, I'm greeted with impartial eyes.
"I'll take care of him. You need to get to your coronation and tell no one of what you have seen."
His response is so cold and sharp. No, "hello". No, "Hey, I realize I've been gone for the past few weeks and have somehow managed to appear on the same island as you. Did I mention I have wings?"
"I-" I blink, he's gone.
Kai is still laying in the sand beneath me, the waves softly lapping at his body. I suppose I'll have to trust this new Luke. I take a deep breath and gather my strength. I give Kai one last kiss, diving into the waves without a backwards glance. If I look back I might never be able to leave him. The water envelopes me in its warm embrace, washing away Kai's blood and my tears. What is Luke going to do to him? I can't even begin to think of what it could possibly be. And he has wings? Is he a pixie? I thought they were supposed to be tiny. I don't notice the guards until they almost run into me. It's the usual pairing, the older and younger. They bow in unison, I blush. I quickly regain my composure and raise my head.
"You don't have to bow."
They rise uncertainly, the younger one smiles at me.
"Your highness," the older says, "we're here to escort you to the palace."
"Alright. Lead the way."
The guards assume their usual positions on either side of me, and we swim in silence. Soon, the gates of the village loom over our heads, the guards stationed there open them with a deep bow. We enter the village. I almost don't recognize it. It's a hubbub of excitement, the merpeople bustling through the streets. Some are carrying decorations and others brightly colored clothes. Bakers and chefs have carts of various foods, and the shops are decorated with shells and banners. Everyone is so happy for coronation, but it's impossible for me to be happy right now. Kai isn't here to celebrate with me. Every time I close my eyes he's there, his face, his touch, his kiss. I can't help but think of what he said about me being the perfect princess. I have to do this. For him. He would want me to.
We turn a corner and exit the village. The palace juts out of the rock ahead of us, its spires glistening in the sunlight. Every gemstone is in its place, but now the palace has been draped in billowing white banners. Each has been adorned with a golden sun, sewn on with golden thread that catches the light and makes it seem as if the sun is truly shining. We make our way through the gardens to the massive doors. The guards there open them with a bow, and we go through. The main hall of the palace has been transformed into a massive ballroom, with the same white tapestries hanging from the vaulted ceiling high above us. Maids bustle about with various food items and clothing, tables have been set up around the edges of the dance floor. A large stage has been erected on the opposite side of the room, with two thrones. One large, one smaller. I have a feeling I know which one is mine. A string quartet is to the right of the stage, tuning their instruments. A string quartet underwater? I suppose anything is possible in Neverland. The sounds of their instruments float through the air, sounding soft and beautiful.
The guards lead me up the familiar path of stairs, but instead of turning down the hallway we did before, we turn in a different direction. We follow the twists and turns of the hallway, taking rights and lefts until I'm definitely lost. They pause outside of a massive door, just like my mother's. But this time, instead of knocking, they open it and lead me inside.
"Your chambers, your highness." the older guard says.
The younger one chuckles, the older one elbows him softly.
"Yes, your highness. Is there a problem?"
I laugh, slowly turning in a circle and taking it all in, "No. Not at all. Thank you."
The guards bow, "We'll be outside of your door if you need anything, your highness."
Before I can reply, they close the door and leave me alone.
My room, or rooms, is huge! The room I'm currently standing in is a parlor similar to my mother's. There are couches around a table, and glass french doors leading to a balcony. I cross to the doors and open them. The balcony is rather large, there is a table with chairs overlooking the gardens, perhaps for morning coffee? I go back into the parlor, and choose to go into the room on the right. It's a bathroom, with a floor length mirror and a massive countertop loaded with hair brushes, makeup, toothbrushes, towels, and some things I don't really recognize. There isn't a bathtub, shower, or sink, but I suppose that it's not really necessary. I exit the bathroom and pass through the parlor, and enter the room on the opposite side. This one is a bedroom, with a massive king sized, four poster bed. There is a smaller set of french doors to the right, I open them and step inside. It's a walk-in closet. This day literally could not get better. Since merpeople don't really wear pants, there are just racks upon racks of bikini tops. There are drawers of pearls and other decorations. But in the middle of the room is something that catches my attention, a tiara. It glimmers in the soft light. I walk forward slowly, almost afraid that my presence will be enough to make the delicate thing shatter. It's so beautiful. I don't want to touch it, it seems too small to be stable. I exit the closet and flop onto the bed, it absorbs me. The bed is so soft, and the sheets are so smooth. I could literally fall asleep just laying here. Sleep is sounding excellent right now.
A soft tap on the door rouses me before I can drift off.
A younger mermaid enters, she looks no older than thirteen. She has thick, dark brown hair pulled into a tight bun, but a few sections of her hair have fallen out of the knot. She has pretty deep blue eyes that remind me of Kai's. In fact, she looks just like Marina.
"Hello, your highness. My name is Ava. I'm here to get you ready for your coronation."
She smiles softly, revealing the same dimples that Kai has, or had.
I shake my head, "If you don't mind me asking, do you have any siblings?"
Ava laughs, "Um, yeah. My brother Kai won't stop talking about you. He's so in love!" she singsongs.
My heart sinks, I fake a laugh, "I suppose that's why I was asking."
Her smile broadens, "It's okay! Follow me."
Ava turns her back to me, and I stifle my tears. Her brother is dead, and she doesn't know. Luke told me not to tell anyone, and I have to trust him. She swims out of the room and to the bathroom, where a blue bikini top with shells and deep blue pearls sewn in sits on the countertop. Many strands of blue and white pearls lay coiled on the counter, waiting to be draped over my tail. I sigh, here we go.
Ava gazes at the bikini top for a moment, "Isn't it pretty? These are the rarest pearls in all of the ocean. Very hard to find. The princess deserves only the best, huh?"
I try to laugh, but it comes out as more of a sigh, "I guess so."
She picks it up and hands it to me, "Here. Put it on."
I turn away from her and take off my simple black bikini top, exchanging it for the new one. I turn back around and she smiles, "It looks really good on you!"
I smile back, "Thanks."
Ava reaches forward and removes my bikini bottoms from my wrist, and she places the top and bottoms on the corner of the counter. She sighs and taps her fingers on the counter.
"Now, for your hair."
She pulls out a stool from beneath the counter, and I sit. She begins to softly run her fingers through my hair, which has now grown to the bottom of my lower back. My hair has grown several inches and I've only been here for a few weeks. There are quite a lot of weird things happening here, aren't there?
"I'm thinking this would look good, what about you?"
She flops my hair into my eyes, and I muster up a laugh, "I think so, too."
She pulls my hair back out of my eyes, "Are you okay?"
I look up into the mirror to find her eyes trained on mine, full of concern. I really want to tell her. But, I know that I shouldn't. I really, really, really shouldn't.