Chapter 3

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Returning long before dark, Dylana knew she would be questioned. She had long desired to see the surface world and her excitement had always been apparent to her family. She knew that returning too soon would raise suspicion and she certainly couldn't tell her family that she had almost been captured in a net — much less that an elf had seen her! She spotted a group of sea turtles swimming among a school of brightly-colored fish and joined them in the strong currents. She dallied there with the fish for many hours, until nighttime began to paint the sky a blanket of stars. Then, and only then, was she able to return to the pearl palace.

Upon her return, she was certain to take the side corridors — those intended for servants — and sneak her way back to her room. Her family would assume she was too tired after her long journey and leave her alone. At least, until morning. She would have to make up a marvelous story to tell by then. As she pushed aside the seaweed curtain, her gaze fell on the enchanted mirror. She had almost forgotten it existed. She stayed in place, contemplating it for a long time. Should I? She wondered. She picked up the mirror and willed it to find the sight of her choosing.

In the mirror, she found the man who had granted her freedom from the confines of a fishing net. She watched him for a long time, trying to understand his kindness. Her father had always said that the elves were, while advanced and civilized, cruel and power-hungry creatures that would either cut her into food or put her in a tank as an attraction. She couldn't fathom the concept of fish tanks — mortal constructions that held water and fish within it, but never allowed the fish to return to the ocean of their home.

She got lost for many hours staring into the looking glass and watching the mortals with curiosity. She had never before really analyzed or noted the behaviors of mortals — save for their customs surrounding dancing, a past-time which fascinated her. She wished silently that she could move on land with the grace of a mortal, but knew it was impossible with her tail — however, in contrast, mortals could never know the freedom of physically gliding through the water as easily as one of their ships. Now, she examined them with trepidation and piqued curiosity.

The man, a sailor on a large vessel, was attractive for an elf and Dylana could see similar physical traits that were deemed attractive for the merfolk. However, he lacked a tail, which was the most telling of physical beauty within Atlantica. That was why her sister Mareena was deemed so beautiful, for her golden tail was a rarity among their kind. Even so, Dylana found herself wondering what kind of man he was, if he had a wife and children or whether he was a bachelor, what his family was like in comparison to her own, what his customs and rituals were, if he had believed in her kind before meeting her... Her thoughts trailed off for a long time and, before she realized it, morning was fast approaching again.

"Have I really been so enraptured?" Dylana mused to herself as she gazed up towards the surface from her bedroom window, "funny that a mortal should interest me to such a fashion."

"Dylana?" The princess was snapped out of her thoughts upon hearing her elder sister's voice. The seaweed curtain was brushed aside as Mareena swam into the room, tail glittering in the daylight.

"Yes?" Dylana asked, knowing full well what her sister wanted. Their father would have sent her.

"Father expects you immediately in the throne room — he wishes to discuss your sights of the mortal realm," Mareena explained, rephrasing what Dylana already knew.

"I will be there in a moment," Dylana assured her. Mareena nodded and darted back out with a flick of her strong tail. Dylana sighed and followed slowly. Entering the throne room, Dylana found her father and eldest sister awaiting her. Mareena joined them next to the throne and left Dylana to face all three of them.

"Well? How did you fare?" their father asked with a genuine smile.

"Well," Dylana began slowly, trying to think up a good lie quickly — she had forgotten all about doing so during the night while she watched the mortal man. "I saw my first sunset, unfiltered by water!" she feigned excitement and her father nodded, "then I swam with a pod of dolphins as they dashed over the waves, which was exhilarating! I saw many ships gliding gracefully over the water, carvings of maidens on their bows and strange white guiding them on the wind." She wasn't lying, per say, but she certainly had experienced more.

"Is that all?" her father asked. "You didn't see any mortal constructions beyond boats." Dylana swallowed hard.

"I saw one — but I did not approach too closely!" Dylana assured them with a lie. "It was beautiful, in a strange manner," she tried to explain, "for it rose massively above the ocean and many of those vessels came and went by." Her father nodded, seemingly appeased and Dylana breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'm overjoyed that your journey was fruitful!" the king stated. Dylana nodded affirmation.

"Did you not watch the sunset?" Mareena chimed in suddenly.

"Yes, that was one of my favorites," Delmara added.

"No," Dylana admitted truthfully. "I... didn't want to be late returning home, lest I become too tired to complete the journey," she lied quickly.

"A wise decision, if unfortunate," her father declared loudly. He seemed pleased with her stories. "You are all dismissed," he said suddenly.

"Father?" Dylana asked.

"I'm afraid there is much to be done today — for we must celebrate your birthday still!" he explained excitedly. Dylana sighed inwardly. She had almost forgotten that tradition, so caught up in spinning her tales.

"Of course, I'm excited for that, too," Dylana insisted, "but I'm still very tired. Might I rest until tonight?" she requested. Her father waved her away.

"The day is yours." All three princesses turned to their father and bowed before making their exit together. Dylana intended to find her grandmother before the festivities began.

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