“I don’t see the point you’re trying to make,” Jeffery said, looking on at the witch who was presently pacing about the cave with a book in hand. She didn’t give Jeffery’s words any attention. She just continued to pace about while flipping the book with a worn-out red cover as she cursed under her breath.
“If you look at it from this point of view, I won’t be able to get you the lax pearls now. You’ve ruined your own plan,” Jeffery continued, brushing aside the fact that his first sentence had been ignored.
“I’m failing to see how all this adds up—”
“Shut up!” the witch finally replied firmly as she shut the brown paged book. Her actions caused the small birds that had taken refuge in the cave’s ceiling to fly out of the cave due to the frightening echo.
Jeffery opened his mouth to speak but the witch beat him to it.
“I’ll tell you how it adds up,” she muttered, walking up to Jeffery’s bound figure. “There are more coves apart from Afibia and its neighbors who have reefs of lax pearls just begging to be harvested. I’ll take you to one of them and you’ll do your part and maybe, just maybe I’ll send you back to Afibia when I’m a safe distance away from the shoreline.”
Jeffery looked on, watching as the witch turned and walked away from him without uttering another word.
His mind then wandered to Aquas—to Afibia. He desperately wanted to know what was going on.
“You shouldn’t have let her take him,” Aquas said in frustration as the whole council looked on at him with worried expressions. He had narrated the true story to them and they were all deciding on what to do.
“Sacred spirits,” Encaca muttered under her breath as she shook her head in regret. When she’d called Jeffery onto the stage she’d thought the reason why when she tried to read into him and everything was blurry was because he had a clutter of thoughts or a memory that was weighing him down. It was only after Aquas narrated the true story that she realized it was a neatly done and disguised mind block. She was angered at the fact that someone could deceive her like that- especially by a mere mortal witch who was probably self-taught.
“It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have let my anger take over me. We’re meant to analyze and judge cases fairly, how could I have dismissed his part of the story without hearing it?” Marsha said, running a hand through her brown waist-length hair as her facial features expressed worry.
“It was sudden, it’s not your fault,” the elder said. He hadn’t paid much attention to what happened. He usually allowed the younger merfolk to deal with sudden and fast-paced situations like that one. He was far too old for things like that and was waiting patiently for when his ancestors to call him to the afterlife.
“What are we going to do?” Marsha asked looking from Aquas to Encaca, and then to the other members of the council.
“Nothing,” Filli said, earning confused stares from the council members. “They’re no longer in our cove so they’re no longer our business.”
“Sometimes I question why you were picked to join the council, you have no drop of compassion in your blood,” the purple-haired merwoman said with obvious disgust written in her tone. She turned away from Filli soon after, directing her next words to the other council members. “We have to help them in any way we can.”
“Agreed,” Encaca said making all the council members turn to her. She left the side of the council table to meet Aquas who was standing before it.
“Is there anyone we can ask for help from above without putting the cove in danger?” Encaca asked, looking into Aquas’ green eyes. His thoughts quickly moved to the two men Jeffery had talked to him about. He knew their names but had no idea of what they looked like or where they might be.
“He has friends on the surface,” Aquas muttered looking at Encaca, “but I’m not sure how to reach them,” he added honestly, earning a nod from the sea witch.
“I’m usually not an advocate for crossing worlds, but I think this is an exception,” Encaca said before looking away from Aquas to fish out four-stringed amulets from her waist bag. She stretched them out to Aquas, gesturing for him to take them. He gave her a confused look but let her push the stringed amulets into his palm.
“The council will decide on the three other people who will follow you to the surface,” Encaca said as she eyes the amulets in his hand. “You’ll change form immediately your head breaks the water. Please try to be safe, I’ll join you when I can.”
Aquas smiled, looking down at the amulets he held with a loose grip with much more regard.
“Thank you,” he muttered to Encaca as his eyes stung. He wasn’t sure what was happening to Jeffery now but he hopped his human was safe.
Encaca smiled at him before giving both his cheeks a motherly pat. She turned to address the council briefly before swimming out the hall leaving everyone to stare on as she left.
“We have to decide who’s fit to go quickly,” Marsha said, breaking the silence. Everyone in the council apart from Filli nodded in agreement. The young merman still didn’t understand why they had to help.
“Aquas,” one of the female members spoke up. “Who would you like to take with you?”
The question was followed by a full-length conversation until the council concluded on who should follow him.
“We’re close,” Ramie muttered as the light from the surface started to seem closer. Yanus hummed in agreement while Aquas and Althorn concentrated on the journey ahead.
With much consideration, Althorn, the leader of the gatherers as well as Yanus and Ramie were chosen to follow Aquas to the surface. They all had their amulet around their necks and will occasionally feel them as they approached the surface.
Ramie bit his lip as the rays of sunlight reflecting on the water surface shined with more intensity as they continued to swim upwards. He’d never been above the water like Aquas, or out of necessity like Yanus and Althorn who were gatherers.
Aquas was the first person to break the water surface. The others watched as his green-gold embellished tail was replaced with human legs. Ramie watched as the others swam up to join him. He watched their tails change into legs individually before fiddling with his own amulet nervously. He shut his eyes, taking a deep breath before swimming out of the water himself. The others were already seated on the beach sand, waiting for Ramie who had to swim up to shore.
“I’m not sure what to think of this,” Althorn said, looking down at the hair infested pair of limbs human called legs. He raised his hands to his eyes, frowning slightly at the lack of thin webbing between the fingers. They also looked rough compared to the silky look he was used to.
“I don’t know what to think of this either,” Yanus muttered, looking between his legs. “How do they move around with this?” he asked no one in particular.
Aquas was carefully inspecting his human body. Of course, he’d seen enough of humans to be familiar with their look, but being one was completely fascinating. He twitched one of his feet, smiling as the toes wiggled in response.
“What now?” Ramie asked as he decided to sit on the large rock that was wedged on the moist shore.
“We wait,” Aquas said as he hugged his legs to himself before looking out into the water, observing it from a human’s perspective for the first time.
“His friends came looking for him the last time he fell into the water. They’ll come looking for him. They’ve probably been looking for him for a while.” Aquas reasoned, earning a frown from the others.
“Is this why we seem so far off? Is this where he got lost?” Althorn asked as he tried to make sense of it all.
“Close,” Ramie muttered. He wasn’t exactly sure, but he knew boats and ships that carried goods passed around this area. He wasn’t so sure how far or close it was but he hoped it was close enough.
“So we’re just going to wait?” Ramie said, dragging the last word in an attempt to make Aquas see the severity of its weight.
Aquas nodded at him before returning his gaze to the water. “it’s all we can do,” he muttered softly in a hopeful yet worried tone.
Ethan cursed under his breath as he and John walked about the beach with a lantern. They only had two days left until they had to call searching for Jeffery off. The search was hopeless now and they’d only journeyed and searched the small islands close to where he had washed ashore one last time to clear their consciences.
“He’s gone,” John said letting out a sigh as he rubbed his arms with his hands in an attempt to get warmer in reaction to the cool evening breeze. Ethan was more concerned with making sure the breeze didn’t put out the flame on the lantern they were using. The moonlight wasn’t much of a light source and there was no way he was letting the both of them get stranded on darkness.
“What’s that?” John asked, stopping in the middle of his trek. Ethan turned the lamp towards where John was looking at. His brows scrunched up in question at what looked like bodies. Ethan didn’t want to draw conclusions though. Who in their right minds would be sleeping on the beach floor and so close to the shore for that matter?
“I think we have to go get a better look,” Ethan suggested, earning a nod from John. He started to make their way towards the shore, as they got closer it became more evident that they were indeed human bodies. They were huddled up close together under a cloth that seemed to be a lost boat sail.
Ethan and John inspected the bodies with puzzled looks. Wondering why four men would do something so bizarre.
“I can’t make sense of this,” John said, breaking the silence. His gaze wandered to the smallest man before looking up to find his friend giving him a nod.
“Should we wake them?” John asked earning a hum of approval from Ethan. Ethan squatted with the lamp in hand, dropping it on the beach sand so that his hands were free. He proceeded to shake the smaller man by the shoulder, making him stir.
“Wake up,” Ethan muttered in a low tone as John made to squat next to the men as well. The young man’s eyes opened halfway before widening to expose oddly colored eyes.
“Hmm...?” the man muttered, yawning as he sat up before looking from Ethan to John.
“Who are you?” Ethan asked as the young man blinked furiously at the light coming from the burning lantern a few inches away from him. He rubbed at his eyes, visibly shaking from the cold; it made Ethan wonder why him? and the rest of the men were there on the beach in the evening- stark naked for that matter.
“Aquas,” the small man finally answered. The small discussion Ethan and John were having with the small man seemed to wake the rest. They were soon sitting up, instinctively running their hands up and down their hands to try and produce heat.
“Aquas,” Ethan repeated with a confused frown. It was a very odd name, and he’d never heard it before.
“What of yours?” John seemed privileged to ask as he turned to the red-haired man that was now eyeing Aquas’ and Ethan’s interaction.
“Althorn,” the red-haired man answered plainly. His eyes were still fixed on Ethan and Aquas protectively.
“That sounds odd. I haven’t heard a name like that before,” John said as he looked from man to man. His instinct told him they were potentially dangerous, but what on earth were naked men capable of? Besides, his curiosity was at its peak.
The red-haired man shrugged at him turning to the dark-haired men beside him. They were shivering and trying to use the sailcloth to cover every inch of their body.
“His name is Yanus and his name is Ramie,” Althorn said, gesturing towards them both.
“Those are odd names...” John trailed.
“Do you know Jeffery?” the man Althorn had called Yanus spoke up, interrupting John’s train of thought. Ethan stopped talking to the smaller man just to look at the person that spoke up, recognizing the look of need under the dim lantern light.
“Jeffery who?” Ethan asked, looking at the dark-haired man. He could see the resemblance between him and the smaller man he’d woken up. They had the same facial structure and the same oddly colored eyes. Under the orange lantern light, they looked green with specks of gold. He could be wrong though. The color of the light could influence the appearance.
“I’m not sure how to answer that. It’s just Jeffery,” Yanus answered which was followed by a sigh from John soon after.
“We’re asking for his surname. Not only one person is named Jeffery, or are you trying to get a vague answer?”
“I don’t understand,” Yanus started as his eyebrows knit into a frown. “There is more than one person answering to a name at the same time?”
“What’s a surname?” The man who’d kept quiet for the most part- Ramie asked.
The questions he was asked only confused John more. He turned to face Ethan who was frowning, showing that he was equally confused. John didn’t blame him. The questions were odd, seeing as they were basic things every person knew.
“Jeffery. He has fair hair and blue colored eyes,” Aquas spoke up, pulling Ethan and John from their thoughts.
“We know where he is. Well, not exactly, but we know who he’s with,” Aquas continued, looking at Ethan and John who were now giving him their full attention.
“We know who you’re talking about,” Ethan said, realizing that the description fit Jeffery perfectly.
“I’m Ethan and he’s John,” He said, gesturing towards his friend.
A smile broke out on Aquas’ lips. “He talked about you two,” He said looking individually.
“I’m still not sure what’s going on,” John trailed, airing his confusion.
“Jeffery was with us in Afibia,” Yanus muttered earning an even more confused look from John.
“I see there’s a lot of explaining to do,” Aquas said, tugging at the edge of the sailcloth. He successfully got a bit of it wrapped around him. The cloth was thin and provided little warmth, but it had to do.
“Go on,” Ethan said, encouraging Aquas to speak.
The story Aquas narrated seemed beyond reality to Ethan and John. It was more of a fantasy, a made-up tale a parent would use to lure their child to sleep. At some point, Ramie, Yanus, and Althorn disrupted Aquas to ask questions because they didn’t exactly know the full story either.
“So you’re telling me that Jeffery had a tail and all four of you are mermen?” John asked. He was sitting on a rock that protruded from the beach sand. They’d moved away from the shore because the tides were getting closer, and all of them were now a safe distance away.
“Yes. I’d saved him earlier prior to that. He had a wound here,” Aquas said, tapping his left thigh.
A small gasp escaped John’s mouth. He remembered Jeffery’s injury vividly and how he’d doubted how Jeffery had coped with it by himself. He remembered how Ethan and he had found Jeffery. It was obvious his wound had been primitively treated, and Jeffery had been very distant and quite after his rescue.
It was starting to make sense to him, and maybe, just maybe he believed it.
“Do you think they’re real?”
“The story about merpeople...”
Jeffery’s words from that day he and John had talked as their ship approached the harbor rang through John’s head. His mind didn’t want to believe it, but he was starting to accept the possibility.
“So about that witch. I believe you said she had dark hair if I am not mistaken?” Ethan asked, eyeing Aquas.
“Yes,” Aquas said, making Ethan rub his chin in thought.
“I think we know her John,” Ethan said, turning to his friend. “The woman we asked for help, I think it’s her,” Ethan finished, making John nod in agreement.
“Okay then,” Ethan started, looking at the shivering mermen, “I and John will check on the lady. If she’s not where she should be we will start searching. She had to be on this beach or the ones close by.” Ethan finished.
“But now let us concentrate on getting you men some clothes,” Ethan said, with a weak smile and as if on cue Ramie’s stomach rumbled.
“And some food,” Ethan chuckled, earning a laugh from everyone else.
Aquas permitted himself to smile, but his mind wasn’t still at ease at the fact Jeffery was somewhere unknown to them. He was somewhere, being held as a captive.