2: Sorrow - Searching

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Rick stared into the depths, except there were no depths. He couldn't see his feet but knew there was only sand and pebbles beneath them. The ocean floor, sloping out before dipping suddenly. But that dip, that edge, was further out. He knew how far. Knew with unerring certainty. He would, if he continued, know exactly how many strides it would take before the shallow became the deep and he was swimming rather than wading. In a little over four and a half feet of water, there was nowhere for Aren to go.

Yet she had gone.

Rick searched, his eyes moving systematically around, his feet and body not moving lest they create currents which might cause the once-mermaid to be taken away from wherever she was. She must be close to him. She couldn't have gone anywhere. He took a deep breath and slowly crouched into the water, careful to make only smooth, unhurried movements. Cautiously, he let his arms drift about, fingers splayed. He felt about, downwards. His hands touched, dug and clenched the sand.

There was no Aren. No strange doorway she could have passed through. No inexplicable exit she could have used.

She should have been there. She certainly hadn't swum away. Aren had just descended.

He stood. His prudence was forgotten as, suddenly, he began to splash about. He pushed forward and kicked his feet. Thrust his hands into the water again and again. He reached the point where the bluff dropped away and still continued, swimming and diving alternately in his efforts to find her.

Prince Edgeson began to tire. He slowed but tried to ignore the fatigue. After having his love returned to him so abruptly, he could not let himself give up on her again. He had lost her once. How could he lose her again?

But, when he looked back to the shore, he knew he was getting too far to be able to make his way back if he didn't cease his ineffective search. Part of him wanted to carry on, regardless of the risks. But a larger part knew he couldn't. If he was to find her, he needed to return to land. He had to sleep. Regain his energy. Hunt for her properly, with a boat or, though the thought make him feel sick to his core, a ship.

He turned back and swam, wanting, somehow, to feel one with the princess. Swimming was what she did, or he assumed so. No, he'd seen her at the...end. For a human, he was an agile and well-practiced swimmer. He was nothing compared to Aren, however. A log to her dolphin. Stiff and lifeless in comparison to her fluid flow as if she were part ocean herself.

His energy was all but depleted by the time he reached the shore and he had to crawl from the water before falling face down amid the washed up shells and dried seaweed.

His eyes fluttered. He tried to force them to stay open. He wanted to be awake in case she returned. But his body seemed to know she wouldn't, even if he was unable to admit it himself.

His eyes closed. He didn't hear the crunch of sand and shells or see the feet as they stopped by his head. He didn't feel the hands take hold of his body and lift him.

He didn't feel cold touch of metal shackles as they were fastened around his wrists.

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