Chapter 4: Hunt for the Cure
Her cheeks are stained in tears, and her once shining oceanic blue eyes are red and puffy from an endless torrent of sorrow. Her skin is unusually pale; paler than normal, and the sight alone causes a tightness in his chest.
Serena’s eyes widen in surprise, then depict relief as she stands up and rushes to him. Her arms are outstretched as a sob slips past her lips.
“Oceanus!” His name sounds pleasant on her tongue, but that pleasure is brief as his chest suddenly goes cold. She falls straight through him, grasping at nothing but air. And the realization that she can’t touch him causes her to curl in on herself once more. “What’s happening?” She whimpers as she turns her teary gaze to him. Those eyes… So once filled with a fire all her own has been reduced to a pitiful ember that has slowly begun to die out. These eyes would captivate him more often than he’d care to admit, and seeing the look in them now does little for his worsening mood.
He sighs. “Hallmar has trapped you within your body by way of a curse that had been concocted by Proteus.”
She sniffles a little bit with a grimace on her face. “I should have figured as much.” Her face crumples in despair once again, and Prince Oceanus isn’t certain if he wants to shout at her to stop that or attempt some kind of effort to soothe her. But of course, he does neither.
No, instead he informs her about how long she has been “sleeping.”
Her eyes widen which causes more tears to come sliding out as a result. “Several months?” Her voice is quiet, meek. Time lost that she’ll never get back, but that’s not the reason for her surprise. “I thought it had been some number of years…”
Prince Oceanus’s right brow twitches at that. But then he remembers Calder’s explanation of the curse from several months past.
“Time will work differently for her to prolong the suffering, and it is imperative that we be quick in waking her.”
Of course. Several months to them would be significantly longer for her. Looking at her now, he can see the unhealthy paleness of her skin only colored red from her endless crying. Her body seems to have become accustomed to being in a state of constant trembling, whether out of fear or due to the sobs racking her body, he’s not certain. Her eyes are lightless, hopeless and so full of ceaseless sorrow and fatigue. They’re simply two endless voids of what once had been a breathtaking ocean blue. She just looks colorless, as though all of her vibrancy that made her so radiant had been sucked out of her.
They still don’t know enough of the curse to do anything about it, and it absolutely vexes him. She is owed much and more, yet he cannot even repay her by saving her from this personal hell created by those that she saved the kingdom from.
“Oceanus what is happening?” He becomes aware of the panic in her voice as he glances at his hands. They’ve started to fade, and he suddenly begins to take notice of a murmuring in his ears. After a moment of listening, he can recognize Calder’s chanting. Has it already been five minutes? He hadn’t even noticed. He doesn’t even bother to try and think on the way time works here. He quickly concludes that it’ll just give him an unnecessary headache.
Once again, Serena’s voice cuts into his thoughts. “Please, don’t leave me!” Serena flies into a desperate panic as she frantically grasps at him in an effort to keep him there. And that panic rapidly increases as some frustration kicks in when each attempt to grab him leaves her grasping at air. Her eyes are wider than he’s ever seen a set of eyes go, and they expel tears like an endless waterfall. Sobs rise up from her chest, and the sight is just heart wrenching. But there’s nothing to be done for it. His fading body begins to emit a white glow, and his vision is slowly being encompassed by blinding light. And the last thing he sees is…
“OCEANUS!” Her terrified face as her horror-stricken voice rings in his ears like an endless echo. And for a moment, he almost shouts back at her and reaches out for her. But the rational part of his brain keeps him from doing so, while something in his chest tries to force him to go against his head. Of course there could be a plausible reason for this, but he doesn’t wish to think of it. There’s no way. He’s already vowed never to do this again, and he won’t. So he tries to put the echo of her voice to the back of his mind as he closes his eyes against the all-encompassing light.
Prince Oceanus blinks slowly as the world comes back into focus. The first thing he sees is the peaceful visage of slumber on Serena’s face. It nearly makes him forget about his meeting with her within her subconscious. That expression of terror overtakes the one of peace that he gazes upon.
Calder then decides to remind the prince of his presence, his being the only other presence in the room. “Ahem.” It seems that Prince Alankar had departed the room. Prince Oceanus’s eyes flicker to him, an unreadable expression on his face to mask the turbulent emotions underneath. “I was able to determine the exact space she currently occupies within her mind, but tell me…” He trails off as he leans a little closer with his arms crossed across his chest. “What did you see while you were there?”
Prince Oceanus is silent for a moment as he recalls his time spent inside Serena’s mind. “There had not been much to see. A storm of blurred images occupies the space within her mind and the surface is occupied by a strange mermaid.”
Calder cups his chin with a confused expression on his face. “Mermaid? That can’t be right. You do refer to a physical being capable of speech with a mind of its own?”
Prince Oceanus nods. “I know not why she was there, but she was able to send me straight to Serena.” Then his brows furrow as a scowl settles over his lips. “And you could not even do that!” He snaps as Calder simply shrugs. Unlike nearly everyone else, Calder is simply indifferent to the Prince’s temperament so when he snaps, it’s a simple shrug of Calder’s shoulders and he moves on with his life.
“Misdirection aside…” Calder trails off as he seems to rack his brain for an explanation of the mermaid’s presence. “What can you tell me about her?”
However, Prince Oceanus shakes his head. “Not anything of significance. She referred to me as a “trueborn son of Poseidon” and would not tell me a thing about herself.”
Calder sighs. “Well that’s just helpful,” he mutters sarcastically as he pushes a hand through his hair tiredly.
“In any event…” He sighs again. “Those blurred images you saw were most likely memories,” Calder says with a yawn as he settles himself into a clam that has been fashioned into a chair by the window.
Prince Oceanus crosses his arms as he returns his gaze to Serena’s face. “But why were they blurred? I imagine memories would seem clearer than that.”
Calder appears thoughtful. “From what I can recall of my time spent studying memories…” He hums as he thinks for a moment. “Let’s see… Ah, that’s right! Blurred images, from what I have seen, are forgotten memories of the past that the mind can never quite erase.”
“Forgotten memories? She appeared to have a vast amount of them.”
Calder strokes his chin. “Hm… I will have to reacquaint myself on the topic of the mind. Something isn’t quite right about this.” And with that said, Calder gathers his books and leaves by way of magic as he is wont to do.
Now that he’s alone, Prince Oceanus moves closer to Serena’s bedside. He stares into her face intently as if she’ll awaken and answer all of his questions pertaining to what he had seen whilst in her head. Though now that he has a moment to think, he realizes that he never quite gave her a proper apology for his treatment of her the first few months of her stay. Although he isn’t one to apologize to begin with, at most he can have Aaralyn or some other servant go out into the city and pick a gift to present to her. But somehow, he knows that Serena wouldn’t stand for such a thing. The girl is infuriating, and would no doubt come straight to his door with a storm at her fins to express her dissatisfaction with his supposed “apology.”
A tiny smile slips onto his face at the mere thought of such a scenario. Yes, she is infuriating, annoying, and irritatingly intuitive, but he does not dislike those qualities about her one bit. Yet he would never go so far as to admit any of this out loud. He frowns, not only would it ruin his image, but it would allow things into his being that he had sworn off long ago. Past experiences have permanently colored his perception of such emotions, and he knows better than to ever indulge in such emotions ever again.
And all of this because of a curse put upon his entire family by that damned goddess of earth…
Two hours pass before Prince Oceanus finally deigns to leave the room. Admittedly he’d rather stay there to avoid the trouble that awaited him beyond the safety of Serena’s bedroom doors.
The guards stationed at her chamber doors stiffen when he appears, and remain that way until he disappears further down the hall. Not even five minutes after his departure from his room does he even reach his study before he’s ambushed by the king’s royal advisor. Florian had been absent for some time, having been chosen by Prince Oceanus’s father to personally look into a matter involving the noble faction’s hand within the Zivarians’ affairs.
“There you are Highness!” Florian says solemnly as he bows his head.
However, Prince Oceanus doesn’t bat an eye as he continues on towards his office, where a mountain of paperwork awaits. “I see you are returned.”
Florian follows along behind him, moving rather elegantly as he does. “Much sooner than anticipated. However, matters have taken a turn in the closed off city of Zivaria.”
Prince Oceanus’s brows furrowed as they pass by a few servants, who move aside and bow their heads without looking upon him. “What kind of turn?” Zivaria has spent the last three or four decades embroiled in a civil war. There are those who were not quite satisfied with how the Primeval Wars had ended. The Primeval Wars had begun with the Ignus Alliance’s sudden desire for conquest. It was a war between the twelve great kingdoms, and it just might have been the bloodiest war in their history. Many rulers perished alongside their warriors and people alike.
The war concluded when the Aqueous Alliance summoned an ungodly whirlpool that decimated the other three sides. Despite their win, there are those who’d have rather the Aqueous Alliance seize control for themselves. And a few such factions exist within Zivaria, and no doubt the peoples’ own unrest over the way the current government rules provided the requisite fuel for the war. Many rose up in arms against the government, and even now it struggles to quash the civil war that threatens to tear the once mighty kingdom asunder.
Florian clears his throat, effectively bringing the prince back from his musings. “From what I was able to glean, King Aharon has ordered the return of his sole heir, Princess Naunet.”
Ah, the hidden princess. Prince Oceanus muses as they arrive in front of the doors leading into his studies. More guards are stationed on either side, the palace under a temporary bout of high alert after the events of that disastrous wedding. The guards stiffen in place as the prince and the advisor pass by them. Once inside, Prince Oceanus is greeted by the familiar smells of parchment, ink, and wax. He doesn’t waste a single moment and situates himself within the comfortable seat at his desk. Immediately he begins to sift through the parchment, reading them over as Florian continues his briefings of his investigation.
“Unfortunately, I could garner no more information pertaining to the Zivarian princess or the kingdom itself. It seems that the nobles did play some part in riling up the citizenry and sought to gain some finning in Vilmaris as well.”
Prince Oceanus looks up at this. “And how, pray tell, did that endeavor fair?” He already knows the answer to this, but a little confirmation never hurt anyone.
Florian offers up a knowing smile. “It ended in failure naturally. I know not what they thought would happen. Ever has Vilmaris’s gates remained closed to outsiders, and that’s not going to change just because the noble factions decide they want entry.”
Prince Oceanus sighs as he skims over a report regarding how best to deal with the lowlifes dwelling in the derelicts of the city. “And our problems only continue to grow…” He mutters distastefully as he switches the piece of parchment out for another.
Seeming to have concluded his report, Florian takes the opportunity to gain some reprisal of the happenings within the city while he was away. “I am to understand that during my absence much has occurred. All of which originates from rumors pertaining to the presence of a human girl and her brother within the walls of the palace.”
The prince doesn’t even bother looking up as he gives Florian a brief summary of what has happened, whilst leaving out the minor details such as the time he spent with Serena and the arguments with her brother.
By the end of the explanation, Florian looks quite intrigued. “My, I did miss quite a bit. I am most curious about this human girl you mentioned. Though I suppose I shall have to save my inquiries for such a time as when we are able to rouse her from her cursed slumber.” Florian gives a little sigh before slipping into a bow in preparation to excuse himself. “Well now, I shall take my leave then Highness. I must needs discuss other matters with the king more at length.”
Prince Oceanus only flickers his eyes to Florian in acknowledgment before the advisor finally leaves him to his solitude. A solitude comprised of a myriad of varying reports from trivial matters to slightly more concerning ones. On top of it all he still yet struggles to banish Serena from his thoughts, which only makes his task all the more bothersome.
The strangeness stirring within his chest does little to assist in his aggravations, and he turns to wishing that Calder would hurry and fix this mess they’re in.