(The Long Overdue) Chapter 5

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Author's Note: Hey fans, this is a very, VERY overdue update. I know I haven't touched this story for over a year, but believe me that I wanted to and I didn't forget about it. While I was dealing with some health issues, as well as processing a few deaths close to me, I took time away from writing — even though it's my passion. In this time, I tried other artistic pursuits, but I never stopped believing in my dream of being a writer. I just found it very hard to try to write from being in bed.

This month was rough. It marked a year since my cousin's death, it was the birthday of a friend who passed in a car accident three years ago, it's my big sis' birthday yesterday (she passed when I was about nine years old), aaaand the day before was actually my 28th birthday. So, this is a delayed present to myself; I wanted to post it directly on my birthday, but wasn't happy with the direction I was taking at the time.

I scrapped this chapter many times and, honestly, I'm still not happy with it. I'd say I'm about... 60-70% okay with it. What does that mean on my personal scale? It means by final draft, it will probably undergo a half dozen re-writes before I'm settled. For now though, this being my draft, I feel comfortable enough sharing it — because hopefully I'll get some strong feedback from you, the readers, and eventually I intend to join a book club again.

I thank everyone for their feedback and their patience (and I'm very sorry to those who lost patience with me). While this won't be the high point of the book by any means, it does set an important scene for Dylana's own birthday back home in Atlantica...

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Dinner that evening was comprised of various activities for the youngest princess. Firstly, she would have to greet the general populace as they flooded into the palace's grand hall, it's pearl-inlaid pillars supporting a great domed ceiling painted with ancient murals far above them. Whenever there was a lull in guest arrival, Dylana would tip her head back just enough to examine the murals. She had seen the antique paintings a hundred times before, but she never got tired of trying to decipher what hidden meaning there was behind it; faded depictions of two-legged humanoids wandering what appeared to be the great palace was an impossibility this far below the waves.

Once the majority of guests arrived, the gentle sounds of string music was changed into a series of performances by entertainers of a wide degree of talent levels. This included a strange routine by an all-male underwater acrobatic team, their shark-like tails providing momentum through the motions which seemed to take away from the point of the challenge. It was followed shortly by a slew of mediocre singers; perhaps Dylana was being judgmental, as she was considered to have the most beautiful voice in all of Atlantica, but she felt that there was more talent under the sea than being shown today. They were trying too hard to impress for her birthday, hoping for a chance to become a regular entertainment.

Finally, as dinner was being served and conversations shifted to a mix of discussing the exquisite food and the terrible talent, an orchestral band played string music on instruments built from conch shells strung with hardened seaweed or blew sweet sounds through flutes made of colorful coral. This always amused the princesses, for it was creating music without one's voice, something Dylana had never thought to try.

Dinner itself was a fancy mix of rare seaweeds wrapped around Dylana's favorite type of scallops, and some salmon fish on the side. Dylana had once heard that surfacers also eat fish, but do something called 'cooking' it first. She only knew it involved heat hot enough to scald the skin, but had never witnessed it before. Perhaps she could find one of these so-called 'cooks' from her looking glass, if she remembered that night.

Throughout the night, gifts and well-wishes were brought to the head table. Sitting through hours of social interaction, small talk, and forced pleasantries was draining on the youngest princess, and Dylana wished wholeheartedly that she could have skipped the entirety of the evening's festivities. However, she knew that the celebration wasn't just in her honor; it was also for her to honor the people, to let them see that she would become a benevolent leader and pillar of the community, even if she never ruled from the throne.

Halfway through dinner, Mareena leaned over to her younger sister. "How are you faring? You seem a bit pale," she noted. Dylana shrugged silently at first. Mareena nudged her in the ribs.

"Ow!" Dylana hissed. "What was that for?"

"Don't ignore me," Mareena scolded with a frown.

"I wasn't. I shrugged," Dylana countered indignantly. Mareena arched an eyebrow, but wasn't buying it.

"Really though, what's wrong?" Mareena asked again, and this time Dylana met her gaze.

"I'm just tired," she lied.

"Ah, I know what you mean," Mareena replied, buying it, "I wasn't too happy by the end of my birthday celebration either, but you know that it isn't just for you, it's—"

"For the people," Dylana interjected as though she'd heard that saying a hundred times before. Which she probably had.

Mareena just laughed. "I guess it's true that our father had tried to ingrain all this into us from a young age," she admitted while gesturing to the entire hall.

As Mareena turned back to her meal, Dylana once again found her attention span drifting upwards to the mural. This time, though, her thoughts went higher. Beyond the palace ceiling, beyond the kingdom lights, beyond the schools of fish swimming through the depths, up to the ships above that glide over the water's surface with the grace of the people called dancers on the shoreline. Dylana wished she knew how it felt to ride the boat and she wondered how tiring it was to 'walk' and 'dance' instead of swimming everywhere.

Her attention was brought back to the present as a loud conch shell horn sounded from the squire standing nearby. Soon, her father's voice boomed across the hall, needing no help to be heard.

"As you know, we are all gathered on this joyous day to wish my youngest, your princess Dylana, a wonderful birthday celebration." Smiles, murmurs, and a couple cheers could be seen and heard among those gathered. "But what you don't realize... is this marks that all my children, those whom I treasure most of all, are now adults," he added, almost sadly. "They are no longer the baby girls I struggled for years to raise after the passing of their mother..." he trailed off for a moment, lost in a sad memory and the three sisters all felt themselves sink into their seats, as though a heavy weight had just been placed on them. "It hasn't been easy; just as headstrong as their mother, but three times the trouble?" The crowd chuckled and laughed as the king once again smiled. "But it has been the most important thing I've ever done," he added with a grin. "And now, I present you with... your future leaders." As he spoke, he held a hand out towards the sisters and the crowd's attention fell onto the three princesses — no longer young children who needed protecting, but young adults who would strive to protect the people gathered before them (and those beyond the hall doors).

The three rose from their seats as the crowd began to rise and cheer loudly. Dylana did her best not to blush under all the attention, knowing it was now divided with her sisters. But as Dylana looked around, she realized that her grandmother's seat had been empty the entire evening.

"Where's grandmother?" Dylana whispered, leaning close to Mareena.

"I don't know; now pay attention and wave," Mareena hissed back as she followed her own advice.

Dylana frowned but did as she was told. For now.

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Thanks to everyone for reading. If you enjoyed the chapter, please show your support by leaving me a comment or voting. If you have constructive criticism, please let me know; I love hearing from you guys. I promise the next update won't take me over a year this time (my goal is going for a couple chapters a month from now on). <3

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