Cora slipped her arms through the sleeves of a dress made of smooth cyan moss. She smooth it out, and examined herself in the mirror. It was nice to be wearing something that was actually made to be clothing. Cora sighed though. The color would’ve looked nice with her red scales.
They’d only just started to regrow, and probably would take several months. It hurt her to think that she’d become acclimated to the higher sensitivity and stinging of her tail-skin. She put the thought aside, and tied back her hair in a simple tail.
“You really aren’t going to to do anything more with it?” Echo asked behind her.
“No,” Cora said, “I like the simplicity.”
“But you just spent weeks imprisoned with the same style, I think styling it more would help lift your spirits.”
“I’ll lift my spirits when my scales regrow.”
“You can’t stay sad for that long,” Echo said. She showed off her hair, and the nice braid half of it was in. “I can braid your hair like mine.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’m fine for now.”
Cora swam back over to her hammock, and sat down. The guest room the Wavecrest’s had given them was nice, a circular chamber with wonderful embossed designs, with Reshaping that was obviously done by someone very experienced.
“So...,” Echo asked, sitting down on her own hammock, “my family and I have our plans for today. But what are you planning on doing?”
“It’s much too early to be asking me such deep questions Echo.”
“I only asked about today,” Echo said. “Not what you plan on doing five years from now.”
“They’re really one and the same,” Cora said. “At least it feels that way.”
“What did you say you were doing when you were captured?
“I was heading to Faisan, where I was going to work with a Channeler for several months to develop Resolve. Then....”
Her face tensed in anguish. “Then those Aliya forsaken mermen betrayed me and the other mers we were traveling with. They were supposed to be our protectors as we traveled.”
Cora’s wrung her fingers together in anger. “A merboy tried to stop them. They stabbed him in the stomach, and left him to die.”
Echo didn’t respond. All Cora could hear was the thrumming, rythymic sound of Aquin in the water. She felt shameful. At the moment the rythymns felt muffled to her.
Cora looked up, and saw Echo’s blank expression. The mermaid obviously had no idea to react, as Cora never usually let herself get angry like this. She wasn’t like Reef, who was only enlivened by anger.
“We’re safe now,” Echo said. “You’re never going to have to experience that again.”
“You don’t know that,” Cora said. “But what I do know is this: I wanted to be a Chaneller to help people. I’ve realized now that for every merperson I help, there will always be a dozen who will continue to suffer.”
“It’s not your job to solve the problems of all the merfolk in the Aliya sea,” Echo said.
“I know. I’m not dumb. But after what’s happened to me I just feel... I feel like any effort I make to resolve the problems of our people is only a tiny chip off of a gigantic slab of rock.”
“All merfolk know your frustration,” Echo said. “None of us want to risk being imprisoned and scaled. We all live in fear of war from other cities.”
“Someday....,” Cora whispered, barely audible, “there will be nothing left here... but small tribes. The humans will write of us as a great evil they destroyed...”
“I.... I don’t like to dwell on this Cora,” Echo said. “But if I must give my thoughts on the matter, I don’t think that the humans would ever fully... em, do away with us.”
Cora swam over to the edge of the room, where a balcony looked out over the Wavecrest estate. She sat on the railing, dangling her fins over the edge. Echo joined her, and the two mermaids sat for a moment. Cora still felt that the rythymns were clouded in her ears.
“You can speak your mind Cora,” Echo said.
“No, I’ve spoken too much. For my good and for the good of others, I should stay out of world events. Channelers are to be the servants of their fellow merfolk, and let others direct them, as Aliya directs the ocean currents.”
“If you are so determined to avoid thinking of yourself,” Echo said, “then I’m interested to ask - what do you think of the two former humans? What should be done with them?” Echo huffed. “Reef has clearly made up his mind.”
“Echo, I’m not blind to what you’re doing. This is still inadvertendly connected to me.”
“Rather self-centric thought,” Echo remarked. “All merfolk would probably feel similar to what you are right now.”
“You do not know my feelings,” Cora said. She sighed. “Well, you may know them but that doesn’t mean that you know why I’m feeling them.”
“Just because they’re merboys now,” Echo said, “it doesn’t mean that Aliya desires that you need to watch over them, as you would any other merfolk.”
Cora, once again, didn’t respond. She did not agree with Echo. But it made her feel sick to have to keep on disagreeing with her friend. She did not want to keep sowing discord. Her rash choice in transforming the two boys had already caused her so much grief.
Tarn, despite his unconvential temperment, was going to get himself hurt. He had no knowledge of the Aliya sea or its politics, and he thought in some way that he was going to change the bloody boundary of land and sea.
But the other one, Irian, frustrated her. She thought his name “changing river,” was apt, though not for its intended meaning, as a river that changed and sculpted the land.
Irian was unpredictable. She had first taken him to be a largely angry individual, then a largely solemn one. Then angry again. Maybe after being in the scale farm with such emotionally drained merfolk, she just wasn’t used to the idea that someone’s feelings shifted from day to day, hour to hour.
Cora was startled by Echo shaking her arm. “Cora, I asked you about Irian. What is he going to do? All of us have some idea of where we will go. But he has nothing. Perhaps it is something that he deserves to feel.”
“Maybe that shouldn’t be,” Cora mumbled.
“What was that?”
“No Cora, stop being quiet,” Echo said.
“Some people prefer to be quiet,” Cora said, “and perhaps, just maybe, they prefer to be left...” She trailed off, seeing a slight smile on Echo’s face. Echo still was able to get an opinion out of her in some way, even if it wasn’t the one she wanted out of Cora.
“You are not like Reef,” Echo said. “You cannot pass judgement on the sum of him simply because you do not like a part.”
“And it pains me,” Cora said. “It makes me feel naive. I wish that I had gone through the years you and Reef had in the farms. Perhaps it would make me less optimistic.”
“You do not want that,” Echo said, firmly placing her hand in Cora’s. “Though you have derided it, I can see that it pains you not to be optimistic. It pains you not to wear a smile.”
“Doesn’t everyone feel that way?” Cora pointed out. “Regardless, that’s the me that I keep to myself in private. Merfolk do not need such childish levity right now.”
“You confuse cheefulness and lightmindedness,” Echo said, “and I can tell that is something you struggle with.”
Cora did not. Echo said these things now, but Cora could come up with several past times that she had sensed annoyance from Echo, in response to Cora trying to be cheerful.
Echo swam off the railing back into the room. “I cannot compel you towards action. All I can say is, you seem to be the only one among us who are willing to care about that merboy. I care enough to think of his well being, but not enough to want to interact with him too much.”
“And you think I want to interact with him?”
“No,” Echo said. “I just remember that you have put aside personal comfort to help others before.”
Echo swam out of the room, leaving Cora on the balcony. Oh how that mermaid’s words annoyed her. They were causing her to reconsider her thoughts.
Below her, on the grounds of the estate, she spotted Irian, kneeling in the sand. She could not see his expression, but he appeared to be looking at the plants making up the estate’s gardens.
Gardens. Distasteful things. One of those opinions of hers that she knew would cause annoyance in others. Speaking of annoyance...
Irian saw her looking down at him. A part of her wished that he would suddenly swim up to her and confront her, but instead he returned his gaze to the plants.
This whole thing felt calculated by Aliya to force her overcome her weaknesses. From the moment she felt gripped by the thought to transform them into merfolk, to every little increment up until now, she felt Aliya nudging her along. So far, Cora had resisted.
Cora decided to give up, and confront Irian. She could have just swum down from the balcony, but Cora had been raised better than that, to do such disrespectful things. She got up from her place, and made the agonizing swim back through the Wavecrest home.