Marcelina's cave was right under the 'great cliffs' which Emilio recognized as the Cliffs of Heracles. The color change between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean went from light to dark, warm to cool, fascinating him. It was a subtle change but definitely felt by the weight of the water. Once, Emilio caught the flash of another marvelously beautiful tail, but when Marcelina didn't react to it, he couldn't be sure if it was a fish or another nereid. By sunset, the pair reached their destination. The cave looked plain from the outside, dark and akin to any other cave, but inside was a completely different world. It shone with bioluminescent creatures, too small to be seen singularly, but in giant clusters, they were magnificent. Trinkets both useful and not were organized in shelves dug in the rock. The cave expanded into a system, revealing rooms used to store mounds of riches from all ages of man. There was even furniture, either crafted by magic or scavenged.
Emilio could just be still and gawk, marveling at the majesty. All this and more was Marcelina's home, he didn't think all the time in the world would let him understand the depth of Marcelina's persona through her possessions. Marcelina just giggled at his stare and then reacquainted herself with home. Caves were fashioned with the utmost care, all throughout one's life, no mere magic or rushed replacement could replicate them. With a pleased sigh, Marcelina settled herself onto a pile of pillows. The lights played on her body, making it glow and darken along her curves and edges. It made her beautiful than Emilio could imagine her to be.
"How long did it take to make your cave into this?" Carefully, Emilio came over to rest beside her, elbows on his knees and head resting on his left palm. "Oh, 250 years or so, half of that was from my parents before they died ashore," Marcelina answered with a shrug, eyes sliding close in ease. There was no emotional flinch as she talked about her parents, though Emilio wasn't inclined to judge her. Instead, he was focusing on a certain number. "So...you're at least 150 years old, right?" He laid closer to Marcelina, who'd nodded as if it was nothing. "Yeah, but to humans, I look fresh in my youth. How old are you?" Emilio smiled then laughed. "Oh, I just turned 26 in July. Arturo is 23," he replied. Marcelina's tinkling laughter rose with his. "You'd both be just learning to hunt simple fish! Nothing but children! My guess is, you might be fully grown around 100 or so. Arturo maybe in his late 100s, like 180."
All this spurred Emilio's curiosity greatly. "How do your kind age? It sounds terribly slow." Marcelina was in a good mood, so she didn't mind giving him a lesson about the magical ways of her kind. "Everyone is crafted with an ultimate goal: to achieve perfection, to be the most beautiful thing in existence, and comparable to none. No nereid is more beautiful than another, nothing will be as beautiful as a nereid, down to the very last scale or eyelash. That way no man or woman can escape us. Even the male nereids are crafted with this purpose," she began, sitting up and waving her hands about idly.
"That being said, we either grow fast or slow, however long it takes to physically achieve our instinctual goal. For me, it took 85 years. Mentally I was a young adolescent, just starting to learn to sing, but physically I was undeniable. However, my dear friend aged rather slowly, it took him 120 years to achieve his perfection. He's older than me, but not by much," she finished with a smile, always glad to talk about her traits.
It wasn't that hard to grasp, Emilio thought it fascinating. Was it average for a little while, then a sudden spurt? Or did her childhood pass by in a blur, only slowing to work in minute details? "What else affects the aging process? Why would Arturo take longer than I?" he asked, blinking up at her. Marcelina was quiet for a while, her fingers idly stroking her tail's white markings as she thought. Marcelina's eyes would flicker back and forth between him and herself, comparing and contrasting. "Imagine an artist, commissioned to make portraits for noblemen. If they were to paint you as a king, they have to make you look incomparable, perfect in looks and majesty. It will take time, but not too long because you have a natural beauty, a natural majesty that you've been aware of and embraced so that it can flourish easily, gracefully." Marcelina traced the line of Emilio's jaw, her eyes scanning his face meticulously.
Then she leaned back and furrowed her eyebrows a bit. "Now, take Arturo, who hasn't found his natural beauty and only part of his majesty. He is more rugged and simple, commanding by force rather than charisma. It will be harder to both soften that ruggedness--but not kill it, less he look unlike himself--as well as make Arturo appear fully aware of what he has. That's why ages vary, why you would make a better nereid and ultimately a better mate." Her face evened out and a pensive look overcame it.
Emilio didn't know how to respond to that, staring back at her with an expressionless face. In the quiet Marcelina noticed herself and sat up, pointedly not looking at him. "I'm...I'm going to hunt. Rest or explore if you like, but don't leave the cave." Her tone was forcibly plain as she rose and swam out of the cave. The force of her speedy exit knocked Emilio flat on the pillows, and he stared blankly at the cave roof, pondering.