“This is ridiculous.” The Atlantic queen said. She was barely able to contain her voice. The words she spat echoed endlessly throughout her opulent palace. Her pearlescent complexion remained fixed but Phoebe wondered otherwise if she were to be on land. Phoebe wished that the queen’s face would match the frustration she was feeling. “You all realize that this prize I offer you could be anything? I can fulfill your deepest desires! You all should be fighting your tails off!”
The girls stood unbudging in their stance, hands behind their backs, eyes straightforward, not a trace of a smile on their face. This was, of course, the formal posture when speaking to authority. One would not break of this posture even while speaking.
Phoebe’s grip of her wrist tightened behind her back when she dared to say, “We are mermaids, your highness, not savages.”
The queen clenched her jaw and Maria swore that she saw her dark blue waves of hair flash a frightening devil’s red and reverted back to its blue depth. Maria panicked and told her a positive comment.
“I love what you’ve done to the place though.” She huffed in a deep breath and said, “Freshly painted.” The girls, without breaking out of their posture, darted their eyes across the palace and took in the luxurious beauty. The queen had remodeled the castle according to a theme: the renaissance. Not the human renaissance though. The sea renaissance occurred about a century before the present day. To the right of the throne was stone fountain that did not spurt water, but translucent green ice lava. Behind them was a gallery exhibiting the renaissance arts in chronological order. Each painting was framed with the finest materials such as the shells of rare conches that changed to a different color depending on its exposure to the types of moon phases, or embroidered all around with jewels. The floor of the palace itself was the most extravagant artwork of them all, with every tile, the size of 2x2 squares, all delicately hand painted by professional artists to portray the mer-race’s entire history one tile at a time.
“Why thank you,” The Atlantic queen nodded, though her voice didn’t sound of any excitement. “I hired only the best. But it was all a waste in the end.”
“Why is that?” Victoria asked. “Did the artists mess up a detail or two?”
“No,” the queen shook her head and said grimly, “I’ll tell you all later. Now, how about the prize?”
The girls looked to Xi Shi, the only mermaid who was happy. No, she was exuberant. She was even biting the insides of her cheeks to prevent her from seeming overly excited.
“We decided that she should have the prize. She deserves it more than any of us.” Garai said proud and sure.
The queen raised her brow in interested and said, “What is it you desire?”
Xi Shi broke out of her formal posture. She unclasped her hands from behind her back and swam forward closer to the queen and cleared her throat. “I wish to have my curse revoked. I wish to die.”
“You. Wish. To die?” The queen chopped her words into bits in order to digest what Xi Shi had said.
“Please understand.” Xi Shi inhaled deeply and exhaled a shaky breath. “My story is very long and I don’t believe we have much time. I went from becoming the tea trader’s daughter, to a concubine, to a war hero, and then to a bride, and I died. I drowned.” Garai shrugged and bit down on her permanently red stained lips. “I don’t remember how, but I drowned. And...I woke up like this.” She glanced down at her crimson tail that swayed gently in the water. “And I’ve been like this for a long time.” Xi Shi let out a nervous laugh. “Since 437 B.C. is a long time and ever since then, I kept waiting and waiting for a grey hair or a wrinkle on my face but nothing happened. Nothing.”
She paused and took in the silence–the queen’s and her friends. “My point is that I’m tired of living. I just want to be with my Fan Li again. He’s waiting for me.” Xi Shi glanced up at the palace’s ceiling and sighed. “Can you do this for me? Take away my curse?”
“Wow,” Garia said.
“Definitely wow.” Maria exchanged looks with the girls and said, “That’s the most we’d heard from her ever.”
“437 B.C is nothing,” Victoria said under her breath.
“Oh shush,” Phoebe said to her.
The Atlantic queen closed her eyes to think, opened them, and said, “I’ll be right back.” She left the throne room and came back in a blink of an eye with a small glass vial that was half-way filled with a golden concoction. It was plugged up neatly with a cork. She handed Xi-Shi the vial and said to her, “To make it easier, mix it in with a tasty drink. Good luck.” She turned to the rest of the girls and asked them, “I’m feeling generous today. Are you girls absolutely sure that there isn’t anything you want at all?”
“No,” the girls said in unison.
“Nothing more,” Maria added.
“Alright then,” the queen broke eye-contact and darted her eyes all over the palace. She was uneased. “I will get my sister out of her bedroom (she had been grounded on their arrival) and we will get out of here. I suggest you girls do the same.”
“What?” Victoria broke out of her posture and out of her indoor voice and said, “Why?”
“Haven’t you heard?” The Atlantic queen heightened her voice to match Victoria’s. “The sirens are invading. The Indian ocean has been invaded and the Atlantic is next. We have to leave,” the queen’s brows furrowed as her voice hardened.
The girls said nothing; they knew who was behind it but at the same time, they couldn’t bring themselves to say so.
“You have your prize. Leave!” The Atlantic queen resorted to shouting. Her murky brown eyes pulled back a curtain that revealed the hidden fear she’d been concealing the entire time. “For your own sakes, LEAVE!” She said, her final command.
Without another protest, the girls retreated from the temporary safety of the palace.