32: The Wicked and the Woeful

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Grant and Orcan were nowhere to be seen as Edris and Rick broke surface. Rick's lungs were burning and he coughed sharply. Ursen's attention was on the kings Albert and Trinity. They were holding on to each other, still partially surrounded by their guards, though a number of them were now floating corpses.

"Your Majesties," said the witch. "I believe your kingdoms are mine now. I'll take your trident, if you please."

Trinity pulled his weapon to his chest and brought its power to bear. He could feel it pulsing in his grip, his own heartbeats in sync with the royal spire. He turned his body to hide the insistent glow and prepared to fire a bolt of lightning at the witch.

One of Ursen's tentacles shot up next to Trinity and wrenched it from the king's grip, throwing it up to her hands. She held it up, proudly displaying a trophy.

"Don't be fatuous," she said, smiling. "I'm hardly going to allow you to use this on me? Now, I can't say the same for myself, however."

She pointed the trident at Trinity and Albert, holding it tightly. Concentrating, she tried to sense its power, making it build deep within the cold metal so she could do to the kings what they had intended to do to her. The trident ignored her call. She squeezed, her great hands imprinting themselves on the shaft. Still, it held its energy back, snubbing her attempts. It was Trinity's turn to be scornful.

"It doesn't want to play, does it?" he taunted. "You cannot control everything, witch, no matter how you might wish it!"

"You dare to mock me?" Ursen was furious. She threw the trident away, sending it spinning off in the distance, far enough for its splash to go unheard. She bore down on the kings, her snakes squirming in anticipation. "I will tear you apart!"

"Now" yelled Edris.

He flicked his tail as hard as he could, launching himself and Rick into the air. They landed on Ursen's back as she passed and rammed their swords deep into her flesh. The witch twisted, her hands slapping herself as she tried to dislodge the swords and her assaulters. Rick and Edris held on for as long as they could, but Ursen's contortions were too strong. They were thrown clear. She hit the hilts of the swords but only managed to break them off, the blades remaining inside of her.

She screamed in anger and turned on them. She balled her hands into fists and went to smash them down onto the pair. They stared upwards, the light of realisation illuminating their fates. They reached out, hand taking hand, their imminent death opening the doorway for a mutual regard.

In her soul, Aren was shrieking. She longed for her voice to articulate her feelings which, in her forced silence, seemed to have built up unnoticed and now needed release. The revenge she had desired and its misdirection were combining to create a whirlpool of emotion. Her hatred of Edris and Ursen was being sucked into the vortex, adding a black streak of enmity.

As Ursen brought the ocean down on the armies and her friends, she dove beneath its cover. As Edris made efforts towards redemption and aided Rick in the attempted destruction of the witch, she used the legs she'd been cursed with, of her own volition, she knew, and swam as hard as she could.

As the witch bent forward to pummel her fists into the pair, Aren lunged downwards. She wove between the weapons and bodies until she reached the bottom of the ocean, then turned and looked up. The princess pushed as hard as she could, shooting upwards. She pulled at the remains of the soldiers, giving herself more speed. She kicked her legs at them to increase her momentum, almost jumping from one to another beneath the waves.

As the snakes hissed in delight at the looming murder of the merman and the prince, Aren launched herself up at the face of the witch. Her arms were outstretched. Her blade sparkled with anticipation. With her rising and Ursen's head descending, the two collided with a sickening crunch. The blade was impaled deep in the witch's eye, puncturing iris, retina and brain. The bone of Ursen's forehead smacked into Aren's skull, splitting it wide. Their blood mingled as it poured into the sea.

Ursen fell back, ripping the weapon free. The snakes which comprised her hair were a mass of crazed hisses and slithers. The tentacles crashed wildly.

Aren fell, hitting the surface of the water with a loud slap, a sound which seemed devoid of echo and meaning. She laid there, the sea holding her in place, not willing to allow her to sink. Her blood pooled about her head creating a crimson halo.

The witch managed to steady herself and stood, holding her wounded eye, her blood turning black as it leaked from between her fingers. A high pitched screeching seemed to emanate from deep within her, growing in intensity until those watching had to cover their ears. When it seemed to have reached a deafening pitch, abruptly, the sound ceased. There was a pause and, suddenly, Ursen's body expanded rapidly before exploding. Pieces of gore and guts, innards and organs were strewn in all directions but, as they hit any surface, living or liquid, they sizzled and turned to a thick black oil.

Rick launched himself at Aren, followed immediately by Edris, Albert and her father. They gathered around her body, each holding a part of her, willing the life to return. It was to no avail. Aren was gone. Her frame, now seemingly fragile, began to glow and grow in warmth to the point those gathered had to release her. Slowly, she started to dissolve into a pure white foam. The sea grew bolder and took the barm away as soon as it separated from Aren's remains. As the foam touched the slick grease of Ursen, it turned it into a clear cream which dissipated on the swell of the waves.

After a few short moments, there was no trace of witch or mermaid. The breeze whispered by, a quiet epitaph for the fallen princess. It carried with it the hushed cries of her father, her love and her lost suitor.

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