Freddy found the transition from the Caribbeans to Iceland was extreme. It went from peaceful tropical breeze to temporary frostbite. The team had waddled out from the icy waters of the Skaftafell waterfall and onto the green earthy shoreline. Xi Shi and Garai took a little longer because they were river mermaids and even after that, they had to dry off. And of course, there was a lot of complaining, but not from Freddy. Although, it wasn’t exactly pleasant walking around in freezing box shorts, Freddy had too much on his mind to be complaining about the cold.
“Freddy, are you okay?” Katie touched his shoulder so he sped up his walk to keep the distance between them.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Freddy said, trying his best to keep eye-contact with her. “I’m just thinking.” And it was true. He was thinking. Freddy was having a bit of an internal crisis. Ever since his last night’s kiss with Katie, he’d been badly guilt-ridden. He wondered how he could kiss his uncle’s killer. This girl had killed the love of Alima’s life! How could he do this to both of them? He betrayed Mathew and Alima.
“You don’t look okay,” Katie said. She reached out her hand to touch again and pulled back. She was worried.
“I’m fine,” Freddy said, trying his best not to sound too impatient. “I just need to be alone for a bit.”
Katie lowered her voice so that the girls behind them couldn’t hear. “Is it because of the kiss?” Freddy jolted. Katie sighed and said, “It was just an ‘in the moment thing’, it’s no big deal.”
“No big deal?” Freddy laughed bitterly and spun to face her. He looked deeply into her golden brown eyes. Katie’s feet were planted firmly on the frost glazed ground but he could tell she trying hard to secure her firmness. “You are the girl who killed my uncle and my friend’s boyfriend and I kissed you. I’m a traitor.” Freddy never had this feeling before. Not only was it guilt, but it made him feel filthy and wrong. He felt disgusting.
“I’m sorry.” Katie said remorsefully. She lowered her head and said, “I never meant for it to happen. It’s just...it was the first time I felt like I actually connected with somebody.” She chewed on her bottom lip until it turned white.
Victoria called them from behind. “Hey, what’s the hold up? Lead the way Cali. mermaid!”
Katie continued walking and looked down at her phone which portrayed Abhilasha’s location. Luckily for them, it was stable. “We can pretend it never happened.”
Freddy shook his head and said, “Just because we pretend something never happened doesn’t mean it did.”
“Then what do you want me to do about it, Freddy?” Katie snapped. She gasped when she realized that she might have spoken too loudly. She glanced behind to find her mermaid allies staring back at her with curiosity.
“Katie?” Alima said. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes.” Katie said. “Let’s keep walking. We’re almost there.”
While the girls behind them chatted, Katie and Freddy walked in silence until Katie broke it. “You never answered my question,” she murmured.
“I don’t know.” Freddy stared off into the grassy green fields and the waterfall’s canyons. For a place called Iceland, it sure wasn’t very icy. “I just don’t know what to tell Alima. Right before breakfast, she pulled me aside privately to ask about Matthew.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her that we got to know eachother a bit. I left out the part where you came along and killed him, though. What do I do? She’s still expecting him to show up out of the blue so that they could have their happy ending. Keeping this from her is just cruel.” Freddy gritted his teeth a bit under the pressure.
“Tell her after we complete our mission, when we get Princess Naia and claim our prizes. It’s for the best.” Katie’s shoulders slumped from the weight of her guilt as well.
“Okay,” Freddy said and nodded. They took another break from talking. Freddy took in the scenery. He wondered why everyone always talked about how beautiful the cities were, like New York or L.A, or luxurious islands like Hawaii and the Caribbeans, but never Iceland? Skaftafell national park was more breathtaking than all of those places combined. Along to their left were the canyons, their texture created by the erosion of the running waterfall, and their iron ombre color was enhanced by the golden light of the sun. The clear streaming waterfall roared and hosed into the running river. The green fields around them were tall and alive. They tickled his legs as he brushed past them.
“What do you really feel about me?” Katie said. This time she made sure to keep her distance from him.
“Don’t make me answer this.” When Freddy decided to embark on this adventure, he expected fun and excitement. He surely did not sign up to find out that his long lost uncle was a vampire who so happened to date his siren friend and to have him die in his arms by some girl who happened to be a monster-hunter and a spy who he would also end up liking later on. He didn’t want this.
“Answer so that we can either move on or we’ll be stuck-” Katie said. Her words were getting stronger. Unlike Freddy, she was already conditioned to expect pain, physical and emotional pain. “-stuck wondering ‘what if’ for the rest of our lives. You won’t live as long as I will, hurry and decide.”
Freddie took a deep shaky breath to prepare himself. “The truth is, I__”
“I think we’re here.” Ally said and halted to a stop. She pointed a finger at distant figures that collected at the shores of the river.
“It’s Abhilash.” Alima whispered. They all squinted their eyes to look further into the distance to make out what Abhilash and his crew of scientists were doing. Freddy saw Abhlash. He was wearing a heavy coat with its hood shading his eyes, the inside was lined with fur. Abhilash was holding something in his hand, a dead seal? The woman next to him must’ve been Princess Naia. She had the electric dark eyes of eels and hair as vibrant as coral. Freddy wondered how could orange and purple hair look so natural. She stood there, smiling with her cruel lips, speaking directly to a young girl who was naked and begging on her knees.
“What are they doing to that girl?” Freddy asked. Victoria stepped forward and observed the crew of scientists.
Victoria snarled. “That girl’s a selkie. They are the Nordic version of mermaids except instead of being half-fish, they take on the form of seals. Every so often, they would come on to land and shed their skin, revealing their other form, a woman.”
“Ew,” Maria stuck out her tongue in distaste. “Shed their skin? As in peeling it off?”
“Exactly.” Victoria nodded while intensely staring at Abhilash who was taunting the selkie. He was dangling her seal-skin high above her so she could not reach it no matter how high she jumped.
“That’s just cruel.” Xi Shi said and fisted her hands. Suddenly, the water in the river sloshed a bit abnormally. “We should do something about it.”
“Yes, lets.” Garai nodded. “But we need to be careful. We don’t know if the scientists have their weapons with them. I say we make our way through the river,” Garai said, pointing at the unusual rapidly running river. Xi Shi must’ve excited the river due to her anger.
Xi Shi locked eyes with Garai. “You and me. River mermaids.”
“No objections.” Alima looked to the others and gestured to the river. “All yours.” After everyone blessed the two with ‘good-byes’ and ‘good lucks’, they dived into the river with a splash. Their allies watched the two tails propell in the waters. Garai’s sleek cat-fish tail glided effortlessly against the rapids and Xi Shi’s flexible crimson red tail allowed her to maneuver from all sorts of angles. The two were torpedoes launched into water.
Garai’s and Xi Shi’s heads emerged from the surface. Water dribbled down their faces and back into the river. They were close enough to observe the scientists and the selkie girl but far enough so that it would be a challenge to spot them. The girls silently communicated with their eyes. Xi Shi’s eyes pointed to a large black boulder and they hid behind it, their backs pressed against the smooth water eroded boulder. They watched in dead silence.
“Give my skin back!” The selkie girl demanded in her heavy accent. The selkie was a young woman, approximately in her early twenties. Her resemblance to a seal was astonishing. She had brunette hair that was long to her waist, skin that was white as ivory, and eyes as round and dark like a seal. The Selkie reminded Garai of Victoria for some reason. Was Victoria a selkie as well?
She jumped as high as she could but her fingertips merely grazed the seal-skin in Abhilash’s hand and she fell back down on her side. She winced. Garai took notice that her body was raw from falling so many times. It took Garai all the discipline she had to not summon the water to drag him to the depths of the river.
Abhilash took in the sight with curiosity. “Interesting. The subject does not cease to submit on obtaining its skin.” Abhilash turned to the man behind him who was scribbling down on a notepad and nodded, assured that his thoughts were noted down. Abhilash then turned to Naia and asked her, “Why does she need this skin so badly?”
Naia sighed and rolled her eyes slightly. “I already told you. She’s a selkie. Without their skin, Selkies cannot return back to the sea. And according to the myth, whomever obtains the seal-skin of a selkie has complete control over her. Back in the day, most men who found the seal-skin would force the selkies to become their wives.” Naia gave Abhilash an accusative look and said, “You’re not going to do that...are you?”
Abhilash smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “In the name of science, I might.” When he saw Naia’s stunned reaction, he simply laughed and turned to the selkie girl and gazed down upon her and said, “You will never get your skin back. Now, if the myth is true, you will marry me.”
The selkie sat still and said nothing. Abhilash taunted her some more. “Will you marry me?” The selkie looked around helplessly as if expecting for a miracle. And her miracle came. Garai and Xi Shi came out from hiding and attacked. Xi Shi swirled her arms and the water in the river rised. The scientists began to panic. The rising water soaked their ankles and the tails of their coats. Garai made her hand into a fist and began punching the air. The shoreline began to shake. Garai was creating an earthquake. Xi Shi and Garai were on a roll with their chaos until the selkie shouted, “STOOOOP!”
The girls froze immediately and the shaking ground and rising river froze as well. They turned around to face her. The girl carefully got up on both feet. Even though she was standing, her legs were shaky and it looked like she could fall back down at any moment. “Please, you both have done enough. Chaos is not the answer.” She swept her hand around them and said, “Look at all the damage you two have done.” The previous grassy fields were now split up with cracks and crevices in which the flooded river’s waters were able to fill in and turn the dirt into slushy brown mud. The river was muddy and brown and the canyons had a few cracks as well. They had wrecked the national park. “I appreciate that you two have came to my rescue.” The selkie slowly made her way to them and kissed both their cheeks. “Thank you. But my people believe in peace. Look at the scientists.” Most of the scientists were swept away by the flood again. But for the ones that remained, they were coughing up water and sneezed from the chills. “They’re sick. Show them some mercy.”
“But they stole your seal skin,” Xi Shi insisted.
“True. But still, there is always a better way to solve things. And chaos: causing pain, destruction; it will not do.”
Xi Shi and Garai exchanged looks and came to an agreement. “You’re right.” Garai said and flashed her a smile. “There’s always a peaceful and just solution to everything.”
Xi Shi wrapped her arm around Garai and said, “Yeah.” Her smile dropped and she sighed. “But it’s a waste of time and we’re short on that, aren’t we?” They both turned around to glance back at Naia who was being sucked into a whirlpool. Garai guessed it was the skillful work of Maria. Naia had no chance of escape now. Her arms flailed about as her body traveled in circles while still sinking deeper and deeper into the waters. The selkie’s jaw dropped. Xi Shi plunged her arm into the waters and grabbed the seal skin and handed it to the selkie who barely held onto the skin.
The girls swam to their original site, where the rest of their allies (and a tied up Naia) awaited them. Naia was magically bound with the underwater stalks from the river. She was writhing in her bounds and gave Garai a dirty look. Garai grinned and said, “This is great. We have the princess. So when do leave for the Atlantic kingdom?”
Just then, Phoebe’s eyes glowed pink, which was surely not a good sign. Her eyes widened and she turned to Alima. “Run!” Alima started running in some odd direction without hesitation but for no apparent reason, she stopped and collapsed.
“What?” Ally said. Her face paled when she saw who it was stalking towards Alima’s unconscious body. It was Abhilash. He had some small remote in his hand. Phoebe was about to pounce on him until Abhilash pointed his remote at her and threatened, “Move and the same will happen to you.”
His face was solid. For a second there, nobody moved. Abhilash continued speaking. “That’s better.” When he glanced at Alima, Garai was wondering what he was thinking. Now it was certain that Abhilash wasn’t the type to give up. “Look, I’m not going to hurt her. I’m just going to borrow her. I’ve spent my whole life to discovering the unknown and magic and this is my chance. Plus, it’s only fair since you’ve stolen the only mermaid I had.” His eyes went to Naia. Naia said something under her binds, and even though her words were muffled, Garai could tell that she said, help me ,but Abhilash didn’t care.
“You can’t do this!” Katie shouted. Her hand went to her gun at her side but she remembered about Abhilash’s remote.
“I can. And it will be thanks to all of you.” Abhilash said in his slimy slick tone. “You see, Naia has told me enough about your mission. And now you’re done. You have her. You don’t need Alima.” He nudged her with his foot. It angered all of them more. “And besides, wouldn’t that make everything easier? After all, there is only one prize.” Abhilash smiled. It made them all feel sick.
Abhilash bent down and picked up Alima with both hands and tossed her over his shoulder. “Good luck on the prize,” he said and left with Alima, disappearing into the distance with nobody to stop him.