The first thing that Dylana saw as she breached the ocean's surface was the sparkle of morning sunlight reflecting off the water. It blinded her, and she raised a hand to shield her unadjusted eyes. Despite the pain it caused her, the sight was breathtaking and she squinted through the light to keep staring in awe.
Her looking glass couldn't have prepared the young princess for the sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations. She felt the cold sting of wind and air hitting her face for the first time, the sensation of water droplets sliding down her skin, and the slick of her hair matted against her wet back. She heard the call of a white creature overheard, gliding through the air as easily as a fish would through water. The longer she stayed above water, the drier her skin became. She touched a hand to her cheek, not comprehending the strange sensation. She recalled her grandmother's tales of the surface world, how they breathed air with their lungs and had no gills with which to filter the water — this must be that thing called air.
Dylana was torn from her thoughts as a ship cut into her view, gliding gracefully through the crisp morning waters. Panicked, Dylana ducked back underwater, letting the cool liquid wet her skin again. She was frightful of being seen, but curious at the same time. So she followed the ship from underneath, wondering how it moved so smoothly through the water without fins or a tail. Eventually, seeing that the boat would do nothing else, Dylana lost interest.
As the ship disappeared from sight, Dylana surfaced again. The waters were still calm, and she bobbed up and down in the gentle waves for awhile, marveling at the strange half-current. A pod of dolphins surfaced near her and she joined them for a short jaunt, laughing as she jumped with them over the ocean waves.
Eventually, Dylana longed to see the docks she had so often watched from her mirror and looked around. Finding no ships in sight, she wished she had the foresight to bring the mirror with her. Dylana sighed; she would have to simply pick a direction and swim. "I hope this is the right way," she murmured to herself as she once again dove back underwater. This time she stayed close to the surface, enjoying the sun's warmth on her back and tail — it made her typically dull scales glitter and gleam, nearly as pretty as Mareena's.
By midday, Dylana had found another ship to follow. She swam in circles beneath it, easily able to outpace the clunky vessel. She wondered why the elves used such contraptions instead of simply swimming as she did. Wouldn't it be faster? She wondered many times, or do their... what are they called? Legs. Do their legs not work in the water? She pondered this for a long time, bored of seeing only the underside of boats. She wished desperately that she could rise and meet the elves, but knew her father would be furious if he found out.
The sea kingdom's existence had to remain a secret if her people were to continue to prosper uninhibited. Dylana had many times been told the horror stories: mortal men who would capture, cut, and gut fish for their own pleasure — or worse, to eat! She tried nibbling on a piece of kelp, but that thought ruined her appetite.
It was many hours before the ship reached port, and Dylana had nearly despaired that they were too far away to reach there before the day's end. She halted, leaving the boat to anchor in port. She judged herself to be far away enough, and peeked out from the cool waters. There, where the boats moored themselves, was a port town bustling with activity. From her hiding place, she saw dock workers walking back and forth on the wooden planks, carrying cargo onto and off of the ships. Townspeople hurried about their day, passing merchants who were selling their wares along the water's edge. Some elven women came down to the docks to buy fresh fish — likely to eat later — and Dylana squirmed at the very notion. But she continued to watch, fascinated.
Dylana remained there for a long time, watching a town for the first time with her own eyes — not just through the glass of a mirror. Here, she could almost smell the fresh baked foods, hear the commotion of common folk, and feel the wind on her scales. So lost was she in her own thoughts, that she didn't notice a fishing vessel passing until it was nearly parallel with her. She gasped, afraid she would be seen, and quickly dove under the water. Right into a net.
At first, in her panic the princess didn't know what constricted her movements. Then, she noticed the strong, thick rope woven together to form a diamond pattern of holes barely larger than her hand. Fish of varying sizes and colors were caught up with her in the net, and she squirmed with them, trying to free herself. She knew what fate would befall these poor creatures, and willed with all her heart not to join them.
Dylana twisted and turned, flicking her strong tail against the netting, but to no avail. There was no way out, as the net had begun to close up — it tugged at her, lifting her up towards the surface. The entrapped fish around her flailed, just as terrified as the young princess. No, she thought to herself, someone will see me! Or worse, eat me!
The air that hit her face was particularly colder than before as Dylana was hoisted upwards in the net. She wanted to scream, but found she had no voice outside of the water. She continued to struggle in vain as she was lifted towards the deck of the ship.
Exhausted, Dylana ceased her struggles, finding she could no longer breathe outside of the water. She stopped moving just in time to meet the eyes of a surprised and confused elven man, staring over the edge of the ship. He was staring right at her, and her heart sank to the bottom of the ocean. I will surely die now, she despaired.
The elven man was attractive, even by mermaid standards, with tousled black hair and a strong jaw, and had a soft look in his bright blue eyes. Dylana could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She couldn't even beg for her life, having no voice in the dry air. The net stopped lifting and they stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity to the frightened mermaid.
Then, without a word, she saw the elf draw something from his side: a knife. Dylana began to flail again, finding renewed strength and adrenaline from fear for her life. However, the elf came nowhere near her, nor hoisted the net any higher. Instead, he cut the ropes above her. Without realizing what was happening, her bonds were cut, and Dylana tumbled with the fish back into the ocean. As she fell, she heard her rescuer yell: "Net must have snagged on something; it's ripped!"
Dylana didn't hear the reply as she splashed into the water, nor did she care. She wasted no time in diving deep down towards Atlantica — she had had enough of the surface world!
YOU ARE READING
"Many have withered away by desiring that which they cannot have; do not let that become your fate," was the sea witch's warning. Young, impulsive, and desperate to breathe the air above the ocean, Princess Dylana will do almost anything to earn...