Irian wasn’t sure what to make of the pods growing from this bush-like growth. One could mistake them for being peas, if they weren’t so large. Of course, he wasn’t sure if they were edible. Perhaps they would bloom like flowers.
All these underwater plants and animal were mysterious to him. Tarn had told him about a play once, about some merchants seeking to expand their business, so they built an airship and traveled to the moon to sell their wares.
Though Irian wasn’t too interested in plays, he had found many of the lines Tarn recited from it extremely funny. But what had burrowed into his mind were Tarn’s descriptions of the truly outrageous props that had been made to represent the red jungles of the moon.
Looking at the plant in front of him, Irian wondered if what he’d once thought of as an outrageous comedy may not be so unrealistic. He tugged gently on one of the pods, twisting it slightly until it came cleanly off.
“I hope you plan on paying Atoll back for that.”
Irian leapt off the ground, and still unused to his tail, frailed wildly for a moment before he was able to turn around.
Cora swam in front of him, hands clasped at her waist. She gestured for him to sit down with her on the enbankment that held the plants. He did so silently, not sure how to respond to this. Cora stared back at him, her face telling him nothing. Her eyes did not cease looking straight at him. It was all very unsettling.
Irian tried to avoid her gaze, but when he did so, he instead found himself looking at Cora’s tail. Although the sight of her raw tail skin unnerved him, it also caused Cora to finally show some emotion, as she bashfully adjusted her position to display her tail less prominently.
While her stoic appearance had been broken, the two still didn’t speak for some time.
Irian was surprised that one of the merfolk had willingly come up to him, especially since the scene he’d caused last night. Him and Tarn had made some light conversation this morning, but Irian really hadn’t expected this. Eventually, Irian became sick of sitting around with nothing happening.
“What do you want?” he asked. He’d just said what he was genuinely wondering, though he felt his wording was a bit harsh.
She sighed. “To apologize. For... for all of this. I shouldn’t have done to you what I did. I should have realized the pain I would be inflicting by changing you from your natural form.”
Irian thought through her words. He wasn’t sure he deserved such an apology. But he also didn’t feel that the apology was even correct. He felt at the bandage on his shoulder. One of the family’s servants had looked at the wound, and cleaned it.
“You saved my life,” he said to Cora.
“I... I suppose.”
“Even though I had been trying to stop you from escaping imprisonment.”
“I suppose,” she repeated.
Cora kept her head bowed, her eyes away from his view. “I saw something in you. When you scaled me. I had expected it to be far worse. I expected you...” She shook as the words came out. “I expected you to be laughing as you tore them off with a dull knife.”
“It was a horrible experience for me,” Irian said. “It had been a long time since a mer I scaled made such a reaction. Just because I used a sharpened knife and had a neutral expression, doesn’t mean it was less painful for you.”
Suddenly Cora was seized by emotion, and began sobbing. Irian hadn’t felt very relaxed at the conversation, but this made the guilt swell inside his gut.
“It wasn’t... just a physical pain,” Cora said. “It... it was... a feeling of shame. Of... of nakedness. That part of who I was... it was taken away from me.”
Irian felt he could do little more than sit there and watch. Cora’s tail, though healed from the initial cuts of her scaling, was still very bare, except for the small buds of growing scales, and the scales he’d left behind to preserve modesty.
Irian looked to his own tail. It still felt distant to him. He wasn’t sure that he could understand how Cora felt. At least not now. With the passing days, it had become more familiar to him. He still felt uneasy, feeling that his legs should be there.
Perhaps, he did know a bit of what she felt. He had lost his legs. While his legs didn’t really form his idea of who he was, it felt awfully strange not having them. But at least the tail in their place did have scales.
Cora’s pain began to feel more real to him. Her scales had been a pleasant shade of red. It must have felt like she lost a piece of who she was.
As Irian listened to Cora’s quiet sobbing, the quiet around them seemed to feel immense. Everything seemed to feel so loud. He could hear the sound of the very water currents flowing.
He just wanted Cora’s pain to end.
The sound of the water currents seemed to become more pronounced. It was if he could feel it throbbing through him. The feeling became stronger, beating like a drum, in tandem with his heart.
Except this feeling was not a hard striking of a drum, or of his heart in his chest, but a flowing feeling like if he could feel the gentle notes of a flute.
The feeling stopped growing, and felt bound inside him. He felt that if he even breathed out, then it would all be released. What was this? It was one of those feelings of the body or mind that couldn’t ever be truly explained.
He wanted Cora’s pain to be healed. He wanted her to be strong once again.
The feeling suddenly changed. No longer a feeling of connection to the ocean, he suddenly the feeling in him being directed to Cora. Her sobbing slowed, then stopped. It felt to Irian like the feeling of pouring a pitcher of water, until all the water was emptied.
The rythymic feeling subsided. As it did, Cora gasped. When Irian turned his attention to her, so did he.
Cora had her scales back. Their vibrant, pleasant red hue shone the light of the sun, hidden above the surface. Her previously marred lower body now looked impeccable. She finally turned her attention to him, her mouth wide open.
“You... you can channel Resolve... and you can do it well.”
“What does that mean?” Irian asked.
“You healed my tail,” she said. She flexed it, testing it out. Irian had noticed she hadn’t been moving her tail as readily as the other merfolk, but now she did so freely. “You could’ve only done this intentionally.”
“I don’t know how I did it,” he said. “But I wanted you to be able to escape the pain you were feeling.”
A slight smile came to Cora’s face. “I am grateful for what you’ve done. I... I feel that in some measure... I can at least forget what you did to me.”
Irian frowned, feeling his shame return. He didn’t like considering the scaling he’d done to be so harmful. It didn’t sit right with him, thinking of himself as someone who would hurt another person like that.
But he found himself unable to think otherwise. Being around these merfolk every day, and being one of them himself, made it hard for him to view them as less then human. Especially when Cora’s sobbing sounded so alike Nalrie’s.
His mind felt very odd letting in these kinds of thoughts. Cora looked so much like girls he would normally see walking around Port Dialn. Though merfolk skin was more pale than that of Hablin natives, Irian couldn’t deny that it still had color deep in it. It still had life.
And he wasn’t sure if he could view their tails as so strange anymore either. He’d grown used to seeing them as a scale farmer, but now he saw something else. Not only were they appealing in color, but they were appealing in motion.
The merfolk seemed to make an art of swimming, though they did it so much they barely even seemed to notice they were doing it. And quietly, Irian had begun to envy the ease with which they’d learned to swim.
“I’ve changed my mind about you Irian.”
“I’ve changed my mind about you to,” he responded.
“I do not think that you are such a bad person,” she said.
She gazed down at his tail.
“Although making you a merboy was such a split second choice,” Cora said, “you seem to fill your new position quite well.”
“I....” Irian didn’t know what to say. Was he actually becoming accustomed to this? He didn’t feel very comfortable with that prospect. But if he was to continue living underwater...
“I am not sure if you are willing,” Cora said, “and I’m not sure I know how to exactly, but I’d like to teach you how to use the power you just displayed - Channeling. I know that you do not know where to go, or what to do.”
Irian had realized what this was. This was the strange magical power that had changed him into a merboy. It was the power that people on land talked about merfolk having, and told stories about, but many doubted if it really existed.
Irian had come to face it more realistically as a scale farmer. They tried to keep the water in the pool free of movement for a reason.
The idea of it felt very foreign to him. He felt... unclean, thinking about using it. Using this thing that was so often described as dark and perverse.
But, he was already in the world of the merfolk. He already was one of them. The counsel of his parents came to mind, from before he left home. He was going to a place that was filled with wickedness and vice. If he stuck to what he knew was right, Toret would protect him.
Though Irian had become one of the merfolk, had Toret really abandoned him? No, Irian decided, he hadn’t. So he would not fail Toret.
“Irian?” Cora asked, “what do you think?”
“I’m sorry,” he said with a neutral expression, “but no.”
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