Aquas was hovering about Jeffrey’s dwelling entrance, wondering whether he should go in or not. He paused in a spot, fidgeting with his fingers as he bit his lip to induce concentration.
He was here for one thing, and that was to ask Jeffrey where he was from. He wasn’t sure how he would respond to the question, but he wanted to get the question out of the way.
Aquas had wondered whether him liking the merman was because of his resemblance to the human he’d saved, or whether it was purely the way the merman had treated him so nicely during his short stay here.
As he continued contemplating about how he was going to approach Jeffrey in regards to the question, said merman swam out of the dwelling’s entrance.
“How can I help you?” Jeffrey asked, smiling at the clearly startled merman in front of him. The young merman opened his mouth, but he closed it with a pout when words refused to come out. The display earned a small chuckle from Jeffrey, making Aquas pale considerably.
“Really now? Have you lost your voice?” Jeffrey teased, earning a glare from the paled out merman.
“Forgive me, it seems I’ve forgotten what my mission here was,” Aquas stuttered, earning a low laugh from Jeffrey.
“I would appreciate it if you would stop making a mockery of me,” Aquas said, making Jeffrey tone down his laughter until he was stuck with only a painful grin on his face.
Jeffrey then swam closer to the merman, taking his face in one of his hands in a comforting manner. “I’d never make a jest of you — intentionally that is.”
Aquas found the blood draining out of his face again. Why was Jeffrey so nice? He was making asking the question difficult. It had taken a while to achieve this closeness they had, and Aquas didn’t want to fracture it with a simple question.
“Would you like to escort me to Athenaeum?” Jeffrey asked, making Aquas come out of his thoughts. He nodded, ignoring the voice in his head that told him he’d missed another opportunity to ask Jeffrey about his origins.
Jeffrey gave him a wide smile before swimming ahead of him and turning briefly to gesture for Aquas to follow.
As Jeffrey had come to know, the Athenaeum was the merpeople’s version of a library. It has several wordings engraved on various soapstone tablets as well as scroll-like materials done with animal skin and soft bone.
Jeffrey had found out he could read their writing when Yanus had pulled out a list of materials to show him once. He figured it had come with the ability of him to speak in their tongue.
He’d only discovered that a place like the Athenaeum existed when he’d been dragged there by Athlon, the gather leader to get some books on various hunting terms Jeffrey was frustrating him by not knowing.
Apparently, people assigned to work in the Athenaeum where highly quiet and introverted. They went about their business like ghosts and Jeffrey would never have guessed of their existence if the pile of tablets he kept leaving about the place didn’t keep disappearing into the slots carved into the cave’s wall.
Jeffrey and Aquas made it to the Athenaeum soon after. Jeffrey soon left Aquas behind to swim about the place and retrieve scrolls and tablets from the slots they were neatly tucked away in.
Aquas sat quietly in one of the corners reserved for reading, while Jeffrey swam all the way up to the slots carved into the edge of the wall that held the ceiling. He hadn’t seen anyone so excited about literature before. To be honest, everything here bored him and he’d had a hard time even concentrating on the lessons he’d been subjected to as a merchild.
“Look over after these. I have to swim back up to get more,” Jeffrey said as he placed a pile of tablets on the erected stone structure Aquas was sitting by. Aquas gave the pile of tablets a bad look. He was already feeling sick from their sight already. Jeffrey didn’t wait for his answer before swimming off to get some more, leaving Aquas to look after him. Aquas sent an occasional glance to the pile of tablets, running his fingers over their rough engravings before looking away to watch Jeffrey swim about the place.
Jeffrey was soon sitting across from Aquas with a heap of tablets and scrolls in front of him. Aquas could barely see Jeffrey over the pile. He had to seat up and bend over to watch Jeffrey’s blonde head bent over a scroll in concentration.
He doesn’t plan on reading everything on the table, does he? Aquas felt a tad mortified at the thought that ran through his mind. That would mean sitting here for an unreasonable period of time. He just hoped Jeffrey wasn’t a slow reader.
Jeffrey seemed to realize the negative vibe surrounding him so much so that he looked up from his book only to bump into Aquas, sending the smaller merman swimming away to the other side.
Jeffrey let out a chuckle as he watched Aquas rub at his forehead with a frown plastered over his face.
“I didn’t see you there,” Jeffrey muttered honestly as Aquas came to sit beside him, probably realizing it was much safer than his previous position.
“What are you reading?” Aquas asked when Jeffrey turn his attention back to the scroll he’d been reading from. Aquas leaned in to look through the scroll when Jeffrey didn’t give him an answer.
“Why are you reading about magic?” Aquas asked as a frown formed on his face. He wasn’t even sure why books on magic and sorcery were in the Athenaeum. There was only one magic-user at a time across as many as twenty coves, and Afibia hadn’t produced a magic user in over three centuries. The present magic-user lived far away from them but journeyed through coves to offer her service like the holy law bind her to. She went about healing, creating and offering protection. She was highly respected like the others before her.
“You make storms?” Jeffrey asked out of the blue. Maybe some of the human myths concerning merpeople had some truth in them.
“No, sorcerers can make storms,” Aquas said, pointing out the title given to the merpeople who could use magic.
“I’ve never seen any sorcerer,” Jeffrey said, turning a bit so he was face to face with Aquas. Aquas raised a brow at him. So he didn’t really know how duty and assignments worked?
“We don’t choose sorcerers,” Aquas stated, looking for a way to explain it. “It’s the same way we don’t choose healers, priests or priestesses because they’re born, not chosen.” Aquas continued, making Jeffrey’s confused frown only deepen.
“There is presently only one healer in this cove and only two priestesses. A sorcerer is rarer than the two and there is presently just one across this region that serves the twenty coves within it.” Aquas explained further, making Jeffrey’s frown to soften.
“That explains a lot,” Jeffrey said as he continued to look through the scroll that was in front of him. “Then I guess none of these books concerning magic concern me then.”
Aquas laughed at that, watching as Jeffrey made to return a pile of scrolls and tablets magic to where they belong.
When Jeffrey came back he urged Aquas to look through something why he himself dived into a stack of tablets and scrolls concerning politics, trade, religion, and strangely enough humans.
A low chuckle erupted from Jeffrey’s chest, earning him a look from both Aquas and the Athenaeum keepers.
Jeffrey whispered an apology soon after before resorting to quieter chuckles and extremely wide grins.
“What are you laughing about?” Aquas asked, dropping the table the was looking at before peering over Jeffrey’s shoulder to see what he was reading. Frankly, he didn’t see anything funny about anything.
“What in the world is a red coral?” Jeffrey asked with a grin plastered across his lips.
“It’s the stuff humans use to bring destruction; bring them down to nothing but black sand,” Aquas said, wondering what was so funny about the red coral. From time to time Aquas had watched humans destroy things with it at the shore when he visited the surface.
“Well, I believe it’s called fire,” Jeffrey said as he continued reading on.
Apparently, merpeople believed they were the ancestors of humans. They believed a group of merpeople had once been banished from the waters as a punishment for their wickedness. Jeffrey grinned as he continued reading. The myths merpeople had in regards to humans was almost as far-fetched as the ones humans had of them.
“Well, how do you know?” Aquas asked, making Jeffrey look up from the scroll.
“How do I know about what?” Jeffrey asked, genuinely confused.
“How do you know it’s called fire? I’ve never heard anyone call it that before.” Aquas elaborated, making Jeffrey’s mouth hang in a small ‘oh.’
Jeffrey ran a hand through hair as he wondered how he was going to get away from this one.
“Are you even from here, from the water?” Aquas asked, looking at Jeffrey. Jeffrey sighed massaging his chest with his hand.
“Are you from up there, are you a land dweller?” Aquas asked in a low tone when he didn’t get an answer to his first question.
A lump formed in Jeffrey’s throat. He wasn’t sure if he could lie to Aquas again.
“You can trust me,” Aquas continued, reaching out to take Jeffrey’s hand in his.
Jeffrey had never felt so much relief at uttering a word in his life. He wasn’t sure what Aquas’ reaction would be, but the small smile that graced the smaller merman’s lips, accompanied by the glint in his green-gold freckled eyes told Jeffrey that he wasn’t in trouble.
“Have we met before? Are you the human I looked after, the one who got hurt at sea?”
Aquas’ smile only widened when Jeffrey muttered another yes.
“I guessed at the possibility,” Aquas admitted before casting his gaze to the stone floor. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“I wasn’t sure what would happen,” Jeffrey admitted making Aquas look up at him.
“The council won’t be happy you lied to them,” Aquas said in a matter of fact tone, earning a sigh from Jeffrey.
“I assumed as much,” he said as he looked down at him and Aquas’ joined hands. Aquas was running his thumb over Jeffrey’s hand and Jeffrey found it rather comforting.
“Be quiet,” a low voice said, making Aquas and Jeffrey jump away from each other. One of the Athenaeum workers gave them an annoyed look before slipping away. Naturally, merpeople didn’t mind the personal display of affection, but the Athenaeum workers were just cranky.
“We’ll talk later,” Aquas mouthed to Jeffrey, making him smile before opening up another scroll. There was nothing more amazing than the relief he felt at finally voicing the truth.