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Pen Your Pride

The head floated on the surface of the water, face up, glassy eyes staring at the clear sky. A seagull swooped down and landed on the cavity where the nose had been, dipping its head to peck at one of the dead eyes. It pulled, the orb popping free of the socket, but the optic nerve's hold was stronger and, after a brief tug of war, the bird opened its beak, dropping its prize and flying off.

A hand reached through the waves, grabbed the matted hair clinging to the skull in lank clumps and pulled it under. A flash of red mane and blue-silver tail broke the ripples of the ocean before vanishing into the dark depths. The seagull, which had been circling above, debating on whether to try again on the dangling eye, cried out in frustration before turning with the wind allowing it to carry the bird off towards the shore.

The mermaid swam down quickly, the head in its grip. The light from above quickly faded to be replaced by a undulating twilight, illuminated by the krill sentries which floated at regular intervals along the Korel, the dividing line between above and below. The mermaid nodded to the guards as she passed. They didn't acknowledge her, knowing to do so would mean death. She was the princess. She was also not allowed to violate the Korel. If they showed recognition of her presence, she would eat them.

Under normal circumstances, merfolk were forbidden to cross the boundary. The king had ruled, as had all kings before him, the world of Humans and that of Mer were forever to be isolated from each other. The krill were placed far enough below the surface to ensure no human would discover their presence. They were also instructed to stop any of the merfolk from reaching the surface.

The princess was not exempt from such laws. She should have been punished. Even being the king's daughter, she would pay the price of flaunting the decree of the king. The krill, however, valued their life. The princess had feasted on a hundred of their number only a few short weeks before when one attempted to tell her she should stay below in the city. It was dangerous to be this close to the ships which crossed the waters above. She could be discovered, captured, killed.

The mermaid, Princess Aren, didn't say a word. She simply opened her mouth, her jaw dislocating to allow it to widen further, and swept along the line, catching the krill in her throat and crunching down on them. She licked her lips, her forked tongue flicking menacingly. Then she rose to the surface, returning hours later with a dismembered arm.

The krill feared the king. He was a mighty warrior, a strict, inviolate ruler who all would bow to without being asked. You felt the authority in his presence. It was so absolute, its weight almost forced your shoulders down, buckling your tail until you were prone before him. He'd allow you to remain there for a moment until, finally, waving his hand, your signal to rise.

Princess Aren bore nothing of her father's power. Whereas he was imposing, she wore an aura of simplicity. She was polite and humble, a disconcerting contrast to the crown she bore on her head. If you bowed, she would too. If you addressed her by her title, she would laugh and call you 'sir' or 'madam'.

And if you angered her, she would sneak into your room at night and disembowel you. She would mix shell fragments into your food and watch while you choked, coughing up the blood from your torn insides.

At an early age, Aren had learned the secrets of the royal palace. She knew of her father's infidelity with the matron of staff, and how the resultant son was her half-brother, though even he and the king were oblivious to the fact. She knew of the plot to overthrow her father's rule by his very own brother, and had dealt with it herself. The princess and her uncle had met one night, in the reef at the edge of the mer kingdom. She lured him there with promises of aid and support. She would help him gain access to the king's chambers. She would be there to encourage his succession.

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