Under the sea, a plethora of creatures lived. Humans grew afraid of many sea creatures, especially so of those that ate them. At the same time, they were also enchanted by tales of the ocean. They sought to see a mermaid and hear her sing. When they couldn’t capture one, they thought of them to be cunning enough to lure humans to their watery deaths with their beautiful voices.
We did that, but those were specifically done by sirens. Not all merpeople could sing, but those that could were called sirens. Just as humans evolved, we also did. In a way, we were forced to because with the passing of time, humans became more and more of a threat to us and our habitat.
A part of the mer-population now lived on land, but returned to the ocean every solstice to remember their roots. The other part went deeper into the ocean where humans could not reach. Enchantments were set to interrupt machines that were sent for deep sea exploration so that they could not discover us.
However, fewer and fewer returned every solstice, choosing to embrace the land for its earthly wonders, abandoning the dark magical solitude those under the sea had. Those that had never seen the surface couldn’t understand their decision. The monarch started enforcing an exit quota, such that not everyone could go on land as and when they wanted, but a permit had to be applied and granted.
I had been to the surface, but after my seventh solstice return, I did not return to land anymore. While I understood the appeal of coffee and gelato, I preferred being able to use magic. Also, the ocean was much quieter, albeit darker.
Still, fate did not allow one to simply enjoy their life. I received a court summons a couple of weeks ago, just past summer solstice. It came as a surprise because I had to resign as the youngest prince’s personal assistant after I applied for a land permit. The court made it clear they only wanted people that would always choose to stay.
The summons was from the queen. The youngest prince hadn’t return from his excursion to the other side of the ocean and when she sent her eldest son to check, he discovered his little brother had somehow snuck onto the surface. I was to go up, find him, get him down, without letting any more people know. Obviously, I was the perfect person for the job because I had no other family in the ocean left to tell where I was going. Also, I knew the youngest prince’s habits best.
The queen expected results within two solstices. I had scrunched up my nose at her, because if I had to find the prince manually on land, two solstices were barely enough. Still, I agreed. It’d still be an option to ask for an extension later on. However, the fun part came when she sent me to the exit point where the enchantment was to split my fins into legs. It was also there where my magic would get sealed but the queen overrode that order, allowing me magic on land.
That brought me right to this theatre, where I currently sat on the steps of, while sipping on a cold brew. There were a few other humans hanging around because there was no official shows today, only rehearsals. A strong, powerful voice floated out of the hall. The humans turned their heads toward the voice, marveling at the beauty of it.
It was the most human reaction to a siren’s song. Awe and wonder. But this one was contained, it didn’t lure and it required a lot of practice to accomplish that. Most tales with the humans dying by the song of a siren were usually young sirens that were new to singing. I only knew one who had hone their singing skill to such mastery, and also wasn’t an old wrinkly siren.
Three hours later, the group finally finished their practice and came out of the hall. I tossed my fourth empty coffee cup into the bin, rubbing my hands together to get rid of the cold. They were almost exiting when I surreptitiously swirled two fingers towards them. Truthfully, the only people who could see the light turquoise magic trails floating around were fellow merpeople, but I still try to stay low.
He turned around almost at once. I gave him a little finger wave. He rolled his eyes before going back to make some excuse to his human friends. We watched them leave at our respective spots before I walked up to him.
“Your Highness,” I greeted with a slight bow.
“Don’t do that here,” He sighed. “Call me Hai Qin, or just Qin.”
“You’re using the same name on land?”
“Does it matter? Anyway, let’s walk and talk.” Hai Qin waved for me to follow as he went out the door.
I jogged a little to catch up, “So, are you going back soon? Considering you came here without a word and the next solstice is a while away.”
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, “You always cut to the chase eh? You need to take life easier, Yan.”
“I was taking it easy, until the queen summoned me. No thanks to you.” I replied. He kept quiet so I pressed for a response, “Why did you sneak up here?”
“Because it’s better here.” He answered quietly.
“How?” It was an honest question.
He turned to me, “You came here before. You know why. It’s so much more colourful here and the people have so many different stories.”
“There is no magic here, Hai Qin, you’ve been using it your whole life.”
“I’ve stopped since I came here, not just because I was afraid I’d be tracked but I wanted to truly experience a normal life.”
“We are born in the sea, this is not normal for us.”
“How do you not see the beauty of the land after having lived here for so many solstices?”
My heart sank and he probably saw something shut behind my eyes. I had no answer for his question.
“What happened to you here?”
“Nothing, if you’re not going back voluntarily, I’m going to have to do it by force.” I skipped around his question, choosing to focus on my mission instead.
A crease appeared between his brows as he tensed up, “Try me.”
I barely drew enough magic to bind him when I felt it rebound upon myself.
“And we had the same teacher. You didn’t even try.” He chuckled and released me.
“I forgot coming here by unofficial ways mean your powers aren’t sealed,” I sighed. “Look, I’m just trying to do my job. If you don’t want to go back now, it’s fine. Just tell me when you do.”
“Give me a little more time, wait until solstice.” He had a thoughtful look then. “You can stay with me, saves you the trouble of worrying where I am and looking for me all the time.”
FIVE SOLSTICES LATER
I dived into the waterfall just as the giant tree fell right where I was standing. I rolled over in the river, reaching for the surface. If I had fins, I would have stayed in the water, but I still had my legs which made me slower. I had almost broke through the surface when my legs were tied together and I was pulled deeper.
I whipped around to see the queen’s knight calling up a shoal of piranhas to aid his capture. I shot a whirlpool at him, distracting him enough to loosen his binding on my legs. Wasting no time, I shot to the surface.
I hit the wet riverbank just as I heard a splash behind me. The knight couldn’t come on the surface as he had no legs. He had no more back-up as I had sent his legged friends back to the sea, all out of commission. I raised my hands, ready to fire a column of water with just enough force to make him black out.
“Wait, the queen’s offer still stan-” I shot before he could finish his sentence.
His body sank into the river, I used magic to force it down further so he was hidden from human eyes before directing it towards the sea.
Panting from the chase and exertion, I dropped against a nearby tree. I rejected the queen’s offer four solstices ago, when I didn’t bring Hai Qin back to sea. That didn’t make me a fugitive, not until she discovered I was helping to cover up his tracks and refusing to disclose his location.
I stood up, brushing grass off my pants. I took a few steps, testing for any broken bones. Nothing, except for a few aches. Breathing more easily now, I decided to make my way home.
There was a soft whistling noise and I felt something small pierced through the skin on my lower back. I swung around, all the adrenaline rushing back into my blood, to see the third prince smirking at me.
“Hello, Shui Yan. It’s been a while.”
I raised my hands in defense but my vision swam, I had to hold on to the tree for support.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to harm you further. You’re better off focusing on keeping yourself upright.” He said lightly.
Dark strings of matter lined the edge of my vision. “I didn’t think I warrant the use of kraken poison.”
“No, but we’ve had enough of you wasting our time and resources, even if you don’t kill them.” He replied. “Thanks, by the way.”
I breathed, focusing on keeping my vision clear and keeping the poison contained. “I’m still not going to tell you anything.”
“Oh, that’s fine. We’ve managed to convince Mother that we don’t need the kid brother anyway.” He bobbed around the shallow waters, looking pleased with himself. “If he loves it here, then let him stay. It’s just you that we have to erase, so we can make it such that the mission never existed in the first place.”
“Right, hail the monarchy.” I wheezed and my world spun.
“Father sanctioned the poison.” He stated, matter-of-factly. “Just thought you should know.”
“Are you going to wait for me to die here, or can you leave me to die in peace?” I muttered.
He smiled, “Is that your last wish? Because sure, I’ll leave you to die alone. Like always.”
I snarled and in that moment, my vision shrunk to a pinhole. It took more effort than before to suppress the poison.
“Goodbye, sister with no mother.” He slinked back into the waters and out of my life forever, once again.
I took a deep breath, then chuckled to myself. I was running on limited time, I didn’t need to have a personal pity party here.
It took me a while to reach home. Home being the place I still shared with Qin. I slumped against the door, making a lot of noise as I fumbled for the keys.
To my relief, the door swung open at the same time I collapsed. Qin caught me before I crashed onto the floor.
“Woah, hey, hey, hey, what happened to you?”
My grip on him was vice-like now because I had lost complete vision. “Shut the door and listen to me, I don’t have time.”
“Kraken poison, who did this?” He asked. I couldn’t see his face but I knew he had that serious, hard look on.
“Doesn’t matter.” I reached for his face. “Qin, you have to make some decisions.”
“I can fix this, let me fix this.” He took my hand in his, but I wrenched it away.
We had gone through this a million times. He could never make the decision to let go of both his magic and memories, because it would mean forgetting his oceanic friends. At the same time, he loved his earthly life too much to go back.
I heard him took a shaky breath, I could almost hear his brain working furiously.
“It’s alright,” I said, managing a small smile, “Help me onto the couch.”
“I’ll go back, I can undo this.” He said.
“You can’t, it’s kraken poison.” I was almost losing my voice too, “but you can make all this worthwhile.”
“How is this even worth it?”
“Live the best life you can, forget everything that you left behind. Don’t think about going back now that you’ve come sss…so fffarrr.” My words ended in a slur as half my face lost its feeling.
I wanted to hear him sing one last time before I couldn’t, but what came out of my mouth was just a series of groans and grunts. I only managed a single word, “…Ss… iii ng”
Qin’s voice trembled at first, but he gradually became stable. It was very soothing and calming. Also, he chose a great song.
Love you, little brother…
It was the last thing anybody in that tiny apartment heard before… nothing. Hai Qin brushed his hand over the couch, popping the last bubble clinging onto it. The cushion was dry, as if nobody had been in it.
wishing you were somehow here again
knowing we must say goodbye
try to forgive, teach me to live
give me the strength to try
no more memories, no more silent tears
no more gazing across the wasted years
help me say goodbye
help me say goodbye
The next day, he cleared everything out and got on the train to the grasslands, far away from the ocean.
He was going to start a new life.
I’ll probably be coming back to rewrite this, I didn’t really execute this idea the way I wanted to.
Chinese counterpart of names used –
- Hai Qin 海沁
- Shui Yan 水焰