“What deal?" Alima asked.
She was lying on her sea-bed rock. She was exhausted after her disastrous date. No more dates, she swore to herself. His name was Abhilash. She had met him at work while she was observing a captive dolphin. He was so confident when he spoke and he was so good with both people and the animals. And his charm was beyond her belief. But the water....Alima didn’t think that was an ordinary accident.
“Let’s face it, we both know we both want the prize.” The woman put her hands on her hips. Ice slowly crept to the edge of Alima’s bed and froze the entrance.
“I’ll gladly let you have the prize,” Alima said and scrunched up her eyebrows when she saw that the entrance was frozen in a block of ice. “And stop doing that!” she snapped. The lady paid her no attention to it.
“You would want to give up the prize?” The lady’s eyes widened and lowered with interest.
“What is it you seek?” Alima noticed her tail had shifted back into legs and she went to her closet to get a pair of underwear and pants.
“At first,” Alima said and slipped her underwear on. “I came up here to rescue the princess. I didn’t exactly volunteer to do it, more like volun-told. But ultimately, I seek to rescue the princess and return her home unharmed.”
“The prize?” The lady said and crossed her arms.
“The Queen threatened me that if I didn’t comeback with the princess, she would banish me from all the seven kingdoms. I would become an outsider everywhere I go.” Alima put on a pair of blue sweatpants and searched the closet for a sweater. She shrugged and said, “But I don’t really care anymore. I’ve been on land for four years. It’s not so bad.”
“Are you serious?” The lady’s shrill voice echoed throughout Alima’s chamber and she winced. The lady lowered her voice and said, “It’s awful!” She stamped her foot and the chamber shook. A bit of the ice underneath her crackled. “I can’t even go outside for five minutes without getting sunburned or blinded by the blazing sun rays!” She turned her face away to pout and say, “Children keep calling me a fat ugly monster.”
“You’re not ugly,” Alima said and pulled on a long-sleeved shirt over her head.
“I am. I’m pale, and fat, and I’m too loud.”
Alima ran her hand through her thick black hair and said, “What is your idea of beauty?” The lady pointed at Alima with a thumb and Alima laughed. “You think I’m the idea beauty? The woman nodded, her pale cheeks turned slightly rosy.
“Beauty is a quality about something or someone that catches your eye and draws your attention. Outer beauty is one thing.” Alima walked up to the lady. Her feet were cold from the icy floor. “Inner beauty, however,” Alima poked her index finger at the lady’s chest. “Is another thing. You need a bit of both. It doesn’t necessarily have to be equal.” The lady continued to listen carefully. Her ears perked with interest. “Take it from me,” Alima said softly. “Outer beauty will not do much good. My beauty, the beauty you want, is only the mask I was born with to hide the monster inside.”
“You’re a siren.” The woman said plainly. She did not seem afraid.
“You’ve figured it out?”
“It was kinda obvious when you hypnotized me.” The woman shrugged and said, “It took me a while to remember what had happened.
“I see. And you understand that I am killer. I eat people.”
“You did,” the woman said and examined Alima’s body with her eyes. “You did kill. You did eat people. But you don’t anymore. You’ve lost your glow. You’re not as strong as you were.”
“I’m very hungry. I’m always hungry. My hunger cannot be sated.” Alima rubbed her belly and it growled.
“Then why don’t you eat people? I won’t judge,” The woman winked at her and Alima shook her head.
“I’m tired of hurting people.”
“You can’t escape it. It’s in your nature.” Alima smiled.
“I know. But I can try. So, what about that deal?” Alima said. She was eager to get back to their original topic. She didn’t want to reveal too much about herself.
“I was going to suggest a compromise. Let’s work together, you and me, to find the princess. Maybe then the queen will be overjoyed to have her sister back and she shall grant us both our prizes.” Alima liked the idea. It seemed reasonable. But it was too good to be true. She knew the queen, she spent about two centuries with her. She was a stingy person. It was more likely that the queen will only grant one prize and one prize only to whoever returns the princess.
“Agreed, but I must know what is it that you seek?” Alima waited for an answer.
The lady gave her a dark look and said, “Immortality.” Alima fisted her hands. Her nails dug into her palms. Mermaids outlived humans by a longshot but they were not immortal. Immortality was definitely something to be looked down on. Depending on the type of mermaid, mermaids would either live up to a few centuries to maybe over a thousand years. But living for such a long period of time wasn’t very fun. It actually made finding companionship a lot more complicated and difficult. And eventually, that endless free-range ocean will become smaller and more boring than a fishtank.
“What tartar sauce have you eaten to make you want such a thing?” Alima asked.
“I wish to become the most powerful mermaid of the oceans. I want to become an empress.” The lady blinked her black-seal eyes. Alima was starting to think that this deal was a bit more dangerous than she had originally thought. Note to self, send the queen a messenger dolphin about this.
“Power comes at a price. It is not as glorious as you imagine.” Alima hoped that the woman would heed her warning. Alima thought back to her peaceful days at the kingdom. She remembered to the banned books she would read in the library. One forbidden book she absolutely loved was the History of Mermaids. That book had been recovered from the kingdom of Atlantis before it had fallen. The book revealed all the ancient mermaids and mermen who had ruled the kingdoms of the ocean. Their timelines and their biographies were written down as well. Alima was even shocked to find herself in that book. She snickered when she read that she had ‘disappeared’. But Alima had noticed a particular pattern of the fallen mermaid and mermen rulers. It was their cockiness of their power that led them to start unnecessary wars to conquer more and more territory. Eventually they took on too much than what they could handle and poof, one civilization, gone. She wanted to tell the woman this, but Alima knew she wouldn’t listen.
“Fine.” Alima said and extended her hand. “I’m in.”
“Excellent.” The woman said and shook her hand.
“I want to give you a name.” Alima studied her. The woman curled her lip and pouted.
“I don’t want a name.”
“Too bad, so sad, I’m giving you a name,” Alima said this and rubbed her chin. She thought of some nice names.
“NO! NO, NO, NO!” The woman shook her head wildly and Alima had one final suggestion before she would give up.
“Victoria,” Alima said, and her body stiffened. She prepared her ears for another shout but there was a peaceful quietness.
“I like that,” Victoria said and nodded. “It means victory, doesn’t it?’
“Yes,” Alima said. Victoria and Alima had a peaceful silent break until Victoria’s eyes shifted to Alima’s nightstand. Her eyes widened and she gasped. Alima was filled with anxiety and anger at herself for not hiding it.
“That’s the princess’s looking glass!” Victoria made a grab for it but Alima got there first.
“Don’t touch it!” Alima hugged the looking glass close to her chest. The aquamarine shards that decorated the back of the looking glass scratched her skin.
“Why didn’t you tell me about it?” Victoria managed to swipe it from Alima’s grasps but it slipped through her fingers and broke into fragments on the icy floor.
“You slimy sea cucumber!” Alima cursed at her and hushed when she looked down and saw that there was a wrinkled brown piece of paper that was covered in glass fragments. Alima bent down and carefully took the paper and unfolded it. Victoria looked over her shoulder and they both gasped at what they saw. Drawn on the wrinkly brown paper was a fully detailed portrait of a man. Alima sniffed the paper. She deduced that it had been drawn with the extracted green ink of seaweed. Alima looked even closer and her heart nearly stopped when she realized who the man was. It was her date gone wrong, Abhilash.