Kai leads me down a more secluded hallway, one with portraits of older looking mermen and women. He's not looking at me, which stings a little. I wonder what's going on? Is he okay? He stops suddenly and turns around, it's taking all I have not to kiss him right now. How is he alive when I watched him die?
"This is going to be really hard for you." he begins quietly.
"What is?" I ask.
"I'm… not Kai."
I let out an incredulous laugh, "What do you mean? Of course you are."
I reach out to touch him, but he jerks away. He sighs and runs a hand through his hair, and the water around him ripples. Suddenly, Kai is gone, and Luke is standing in his place. Before I can even think about what I'm doing, I slap him.
Luke turns back to me with hard eyes, "Why would you do that?"
My eyes feel hot with tears, "I can ask you the same question."
He sighs, the first sign of humanity he's shown since I've seen him, "The merpeople don't know Kai is dead yet. Also, would you have come with me otherwise?"
"Of course I would have!"
"I doubt that."
"Don't call me that."
There is an awkward pause between us, my head is starting to hurt.
"Well, what do I call you, then?"
"My name is Terence."
Why does that name sound so familiar? I rack my brain until I remember Peter. Peter was talking about Terence.
The sarcasm drips from his voice, "You seem so surprised."
I roll my eyes and turn to swim away.
He grabs my arm, "You can't leave."
"What are you talking about? This is my palace, I have the right to do as I please."
That sounded a lot meaner than I intended. I suppose I should feel sorry, but I don't. Whoever this Luke Terence person is, he's not the guy I thought I knew.
He cracks the smallest of smiles, "There's my Relia."
"Don't you dare call me your Relia. You've lost that right. Leave. Now."
I pull away from him again, but he grabs my wrist. I almost consider calling for the guards.
"Stop. You need to come back to Pixie Hollow with me."
I almost scream at him. Since when does he order me around? What the hell is Pixie Hollow?
"You have to prepare for transformation."
"Father will explain. But you need to come with me, now."
He says nothing, but the water ripples around us as it did before, causing my vision to blur.
The sound of rushing water is so loud in my ears that I don't think he heard me. I feel an odd pulling sensation in my stomach, and the world goes black around me. I can't see anything. The only thing I can feel now is Luke's hard grip on my wrist. I squeeze my eyes shut as the pulling feeling intensifies, it's all I can do to not scream. But suddenly the world is quiet, and I open my eyes.
We are standing in the middle of a huge garden, flowers of every shape and size are surrounding us for at least a few hundred yards. There are trees and benches everywhere. A beautiful palace looms in front of us, built into a massive tree. The tree is huge, towering incredibly high above our heads. I'm dry, and I have legs. I'm dressed in a soft pink gown with golden embroidery along the neckline, with matching flats. My hair is loose and in curls around my face, but some has been twisted around the crown of my head and entwined with small pink and white flowers. The smell of the flora around me is like a slap in the face, but it's nice. Luke is standing next to me in a white suit looking thing, with pants and a formal jacket with epaulets. He looks like a prince.
"This way." he says, walking along the packed dirt of the garden trail.
There are so many questions bubbling in my head, but I don't think I'll get a good answer from him. I stay quiet, allowing him to lead me along the winding path. We walk to the front gates of the palace, which are opened with a bow from the guards. They are dressed like medieval knights, without helmets. We walk into the foyer, which is huge. The whole palace seems to shimmer with gold magic, the wood and quartz that make up the building sparkle. We turn down a hallway and stop in front of beautifully carved wooden doors, which open without the assistance of anyone. It's a throne room, with a long green carpet leading from the door to the three thrones on the pedestal. One is empty, I can assume it's Terence's. But the others are occupied by a man and a woman. The woman is dressed in a lavender gown, her dark red hair pulled up into an elegant knot interwoven with a shimmering crown. Her features are kind, but her bright green eyes are hard. The man is dressed like Terence, but those hazel eyes I've missed for so many years sparkle with recognition. His brown hair has since turned a little gray, but it's still the same. He's still the same. His large silver crown sits heavily on his head.
The queen narrows her eyes at me, and Terence softly clears his throat. I glance at him.
"That's not how you address the king and queen." he says quietly.
Terence sinks into a deep bow, "Your majesties."
I follow suit as best I can, dipping my head to the floor.
Dad's voice booms through the room, "Oh, nonsense. No children of mine shall bow to me."
I raise my head to find that he is standing, Terence rises uncertainly next to me. Dad's wings are on full display, they're huge and glimmering.
"But Father -" he starts, Dad cuts him off with his hand raised.
"No. We are all equals."
Terence stays silent. Dad turns his warm gaze to me, and opens his arms. Without hesitation, I rush forward into him. He wraps me up in his hug. He smells just like I remember, like the forest. So much has happened that I'm not as surprised as I thought I would be that he's not dead. But why would Mom lie to me about him being alive?
He kisses the top of my head, "You've grown so much."
I nod into his chest, "I missed you."
"I missed you, too."
We stand in silence until the queen clears her throat, and Dad pulls away from me.
"Relia, this is my wife, Rhiannon."
The queen smiles tightly at me, and I return hers with a warm one. Who says I can't kill her with kindness?
"And my son, Terence. Who I know you've already met."
His son? Does that make us half siblings? I think it does. Terence nods at me, but I look away. Awkward.
"Let's go somewhere to talk. I'm sure you have a lot of questions."
I nod, and he walks us out of the throne room without a backwards glance at his other family. He walks us down the halls of the palace in silence, but it isn't a bad one. It feels as if we're still figuring out what to do with ourselves. There is a small secluded balcony directly off the hallway. It overlooks the vast garden below us, I can smell the flowers from here.
The silence is broken by my father, "How have you been?"
I almost laugh at the normalcy of the question, but I know he's sincere.
"Alright, I suppose."
"How is your mother?"
The silence overtakes us again until I can work up the courage to address the elephant in the room.
"Why did you leave?"
He sighs, "I didn't leave. I was found."
"What do you mean?"
"Ultimately, Luca's deal only covered you. I sacrificed myself so he could keep you and your mother safe. When we made the decision to leave Neverland, it upset a good amount of people. They chose to look for us. The day the power plant exploded was the day my father found me. Our kind is unknown to Earth, the reactors weren't built to handle magic. They exploded, and people died."
"And then what happened?"
"I was brought home and married to a predetermined bride."
"Why did you marry someone you didn't love?"
"I didn't have a choice."
"There's always a choice, Dad."
He smiles at me tiredly, "You'll find that sometimes there is not. You're not going to get to choose what you become."
"Of course I will."
"That's not what I mean. You have two days left until who knows what happens to you."
"You're talking about the transformation Terence mentioned?"
He sighs again, "Yes."
His tone is foreboding.
"What's going to happen to me?"
"I don't know. You've never really been a - a thing before."
"A thing?" I echo. Is that what I am?
"No, not a thing. You're just the first of your kind. All we know is that on your eighteenth year, your body will have to choose between which form it likes best. And if it isn't able to choose…"
"Never mind. We'll worry about that when it comes."
"No," my voice holds a firmness that I wasn't expecting, "Tell me."
"There's a possibility you could die if your body can't choose. But that's not going to happen."
My chest constricts a little bit, "How do you know that's not going to happen?"
"Because we're going to protect you."
I sigh, "What do I do until then?"
"You're going to stay here."
"So, I'm quarantined?"
"Don't think of it like that. We're not keeping everyone safe from you, we're keeping you safe from everyone else."
"What do I need to be kept safe from?"
"People like Aleksander."
He has been kind of quiet lately.
"What does he want?"
"He wants your power."
"I have power?"
"Your transformation is going to release a huge burst of raw power that could be dangerous. Aleksander wants to harness it."
"And do what with it?"
"I don't know."
I heave a sigh. This is too much. I'm going to transform into something? I have to choose between a life with my father or a life with my mother? That seems unfair. I don't want to choose.
"Does Mom know where I am?"
"I just sent word. She'll be a little bit upset, but we needed to get you out of there before that poor merman's body is found."
I swallow hard, "Kai?"
"Yes, him. That crazy sister of his would have waged war, most definitely."
"Crazy sister? Marina?"
"Yes, the old queen."
"She's not crazy. She was kind to me."
"That's because you're powerful, and she is power hungry. Have you ever wondered why Kai and her little sister were so poor while she was queen? She doesn't care about anyone but herself. She wants to be queen again."
That doesn't make sense. Marina was so kind! And Kai seemed as if he liked his sister. But Kai's small grotto, Ava being a servant… I don't want to concern myself with that.
"Who would she wage war against, Hook?"
"But, why? Why do they hate each other so much?"
"Captain James Hook killed your grandparents, the king and queen of Pelagia."
The wind is knocked out of my lungs for a brief moment. He notices my sudden lack of speech, and pats my arm reassuringly.
"This is a lot to take in. Why don't you get some rest, and we can talk tomorrow? People are going to come visit you tomorrow, including your mother."
"How is that going to work?"
"I have my ways."
He smiles at me and stands, helping me to my feet. He presses a kiss to my forehead, and leads me back inside where a woman is waiting.
The waitress from O'Brien's is standing before me in plain garments and a soft smile. She too has wings. But I thought this was Terence's mom, not Rhiannon.
"How are you?" she asks.
"I-I'm fine, thank you."
Why not just address the elephant in the room?
"You're not Terence's mother, are you?"
She chuckles, "Oh, Relia. I was watching you as a favor to your father, he couldn't come back personally, so the job fell to me and Terence."
So she was just pretending to be his mother.
"Let's get you ready for bed."
"Goodnight, Relia. Sleep well."
He smiles, and turns to walk down the hall. Rose leads me in the other direction, to a large door. She opens it and we go inside, it's a nice bedroom with a balcony overlooking the same garden. The bed is large and comfortable looking, and a door leads to a bathroom to the left. A walk-in closet is along a wall, I can catch glimpses of the beautiful dresses like the one I'm wearing, some fancier, and some more casual. Rose leads me to the bathroom, where a soft looking nightgown is waiting. She starts the porcelain tub, and pours in a yummy smelling soap that bubbles immediately.
"Hop in, when you're ready I'll have a towel for you."
She undoes my dress and leaves me to do the rest, sensing that I probably wouldn't want to stand stark naked in front of someone that I don't know that well. I remove the dress and set it on the countertop. I slide into the warm water and am instantly enveloped in the soft bubbles. I almost fall asleep right on the spot, but I'd rather save myself for that plush bed. So, with much regret, I climb out of the tub. Although I didn't see anyone enter the bathroom, a soft towel is waiting for me. I dry off and slide on the nightgown, it's so light I almost can't feel it.
I walk into the bedroom, the carpet is soft beneath my toes. Rose is waiting.
"How was your bath?"
"Fine, thank you."
"I'll leave you, then. I'll wake you up in the morning! Busy day."
She leaves the room as I climb into bed. Before I can stress out over anything I learned today, I'm asleep.