Fins (Transformations: Book 2)

Aria visits the underwater city of Valador while the merfolk learn about land.


2. 2

~~When Aria had entered Valador, she was stunned. If she were breathing normally, the sight would have made her gasp. Merfolk swam all around her, their scales shimmering in the glow of bioluminescent stones that filled the city and had been used for its buildings. There were many sea creatures, as well, seeming to be unconcerned by the fish-people around them. The city was filled with various colors, but not a bit of red or even orange could be seen. Of course, that wasn’t really a surprise. The city was well-hidden under an enormous dome of stone. The only way to get to it was through the tunnels, so it would be all but impossible for humans to find. Aria took in the sights with wide-eyed amazement, unable to focus on one thing for long. “This is Valador? It’s beautiful!”
Kai smiled, releasing her hand. When Aria glanced down at the hand with a questioning look, he gave an apologetic shrug. “We can’t be seen holding hands, here.”
“Right.” She nodded her understanding and smiled. “So what are you going to show me first?”
“Well, we don’t have much time, since we need to make sure you get back to the surface before you change back, so I just figured we’d swim around for a little while.” He offered her a smile. “Will that be enough for you, tonight?”
“That will be plenty.” She assured him. “Just being in this city is like a dream.” She looked around, scarcely believing she was in an underwater kingdom. It just didn’t seem possible. “I would be happy, even if we had to go back straightaway.”
“We don’t have to do that, at least.” He replied. “I can show you around a little. Just stay near me. It wouldn’t do for you to get lost, now.”
Aria smiled. “Very well. Lead the way, your highness.”
He frowned at that, making Aria think she might have said something insensitive. “There’s no need for titles, even here, okay?”
She nodded, feeling a little guilty. “I was only teasing. Sorry.”
He smiled, again, and nodded. “It’s fine. I just prefer to be less formal. It seems silly for people to treat me like royalty just because I was raised by the king and queen. Honestly, there’s no telling why I was put with them, anyway.”
Aria cocked her head at that. “Well, it would be because they thought you would be a good king, right? They can see the future and they knew you would be the best choice for the position.”
“Maybe.” He took on a thoughtful look. “But it could be something else. It is in the best interest for me to be in this position, but, for all I know, it could be because I’m going to fail as a king and be overthrown, making way for a better government. I may be destined to be killed or something.”
She blinked, surprised by the idea. It seemed hard to believe that there was a group of people who would make such a plan, but she had heard about what they did to Alizarin, so this didn’t seem very farfetched. Even so, she didn’t want to think of that as a possibility. “Well, you’re just a basket full of sunshine, aren’t you?”
He looked at her and gave a sheepish grin. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be so negative when we’re supposed to be having fun. Let’s go.” He swam away, making sure she was able to keep up.
Freya watched from a small distance back, making herself transparent in the water. She didn’t want to intrude, but she felt like she needed to keep an eye on the pair, lest they should get into trouble. She told herself there was no reason to worry, but that didn’t help. Even if the merfolk were all friendly and posed no threat, there was always the danger of Aria losing track of time and transforming in water that would kill her within minutes. Freya couldn’t risk allowing that to happen, so she followed them, while doing her best to go unnoticed.
Aria and Kai swam around for about an hour. She was tempted to go see the palace, but he thought it was too soon for that. He couldn’t introduce her to his parents without making people wonder why he had. Aria smiled as a group of children swam by them. She waved and they waved back, cheerfully. It barely seemed like any time had passed before Kai told her they had to return to the surface. Because of how deep they were, it took a while to get through the tunnels and to the beach, despite how fast they swam.
 She felt a little strange when they broke through the surface of the water and she felt air on her cheeks. Reflexively, she took a breath, feeling her lungs expanding as she did. It amazed her that something so ordinary could suddenly feel strange. The sun was already rising as they reached the sandy beach. It cast a red hue on the water and Aria wondered if it was possible for the merfolk to find such a thing beautiful.
“Are you alright?” Kai asked, noticing the bewildered look on her face.
Aria smiled at him and nodded, pulling herself onto the beach. “It’s all just so surprising, you know? I never imagined it would feel like this.”
He returned the smile and sat beside her. “I felt the same way after my first night with legs. Transforming is really incredible. I’ll be rather sad when it ends, completely.”
She nodded her understanding. “Well, you’ll have some fun memories, at least. You’ll just have to be sure to make the most of the time you have during the full moon.”
“I intend to do that by spending them all with you.” He replied. “Of course, that’s assuming you still want to spend time with me.”
“I do.” Aria assured him. “I had fun, tonight, and I look forward to showing you around the human world, next month.” She looked out at the sun rising over the ocean, knowing her time as a mermaid was about to end. She found her dress, which Freya had left for her, and pulled it on in preparation of the change.
“I look forward to that, as well.” Kai told her with a smile. “Of course, I look forward to every moment spent with you.”
Aria gave a dramatic sigh and shook her head. “Always with the cheesy lines. You should really be embarrassed.” She turned to look at him and was met with his lips against hers.
As they pulled apart, he smiled. “But you’re the one blushing.”
She had trouble remembering to breathe, let alone respond. The sun rose higher and she felt pins and needles in her tail, telling her that she was transforming back into a human. When she looked down, she could see her toes, again. She wiggled them, experimentally, almost giggling at the sight. Even that small movement felt strange, now.
Kai watched her and smiled. “I suppose I should be heading back, now.”
“I suppose you should.” Aria replied, avoiding his gaze. “I’ll see you next month.”
“It’s a date.” He told her, slipping into the water before she could argue.
Aria sighed as she stood up, wondering what she was going to do about him. She decided there was no point in worrying, just yet, though. She figured if she decided to remain human, the point would be moot, anyway. She walked, slowly, feeling the sand under her feet and between her toes, enjoying every sensation. There were definitely some good things about having legs.
“Did you have a good time?” Freya asked, looking as though she had waited for just off the beach. She was completely dry and no one could ever tell she had gone for a swim.
Aria nodded and offered her a smile. “It’s really nothing like swimming in a fake tail.”
“No, I suppose it’s not.” The nymph agreed, looking her over. She had half-hoped that Aria would hate the experience and never want to try it again, but she had known that was a long shot. “Are you ready to head home?”
“Yeah.” Aria looked out over the ocean one last time. “Let’s head back.” She yawned, suddenly realizing how tired she was.
Freya smiled as she saw that. “You’re lucky we have the day off. You look exhausted after that long swim.” She led the way back to the car and drove them home, not asking any questions for fear of the answers she might receive.

“They really are adorable.” Serena commented as she watched her charges in the nursery. It was a large, stone building with many rooms, set up for the sole purpose of caring for new babies. Sometimes, they would be put together in groups. Other times, they would be singled out for individual care. Serena was glad that this pair had been kept together. It felt right, somehow. She wondered if that feeling had something to do with her gift. She wasn’t able to control it, but sometimes she got feelings or glimpses of the future. She smiled at the boy with the red tail and he smiled back. “I wonder what kind of families they’ll get.”
“There’s no telling.” Talia replied, not looking quite so enthusiastic. She had been caring for children for years and she knew better than to get attached. It was her job to watch over the babies and let the stronger seers make the big decisions. Even though she could control her gift, she had never been able to see quite as much as some of the others. Even so, she could see several possible futures for these children, not all of them pleasant. “You must be careful of your emotions, Serena. You mustn’t let them get the best of you or it will end badly.”
“I’m fine.” The younger girl assured her, picking up the smiling boy. “I’m not a fool, you know.”
“Not a fool, no.” Talia agreed, seeing some potentially dangerous futures before the girl. “I just hope you will be able to handle letting them go, in the end.”
“It will be fine.” Serena offered her a smile. “I know what I’m doing.”

Aria slept through most of the day, thoroughly exhausted from the transformations and the long swim. She dreamed about the beautiful city, sleeping peacefully as she did.
While she slept, someone buzzed their apartment and Freya answered, “Who is it?”
“Idun.” The dryad replied. “I wondered if we might talk.”
Freya hesitated, not really wanting to leave Aria alone. However, she realized she was being silly, do she headed down and found Idun outside their building. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine.” Idun assured her with a smile. “Well, everything’s fine with me, anyway. I’ve been a little concerned about you, though.”
“I’m fine.” The nereid replied, a little too quickly. “At any rate, why are you here?”
“Like I said: I’ve been concerned about you.” Idun looked her over. “I know Aria transformed last night. How did that go?”
“It went fine.” Freya realized she was using that word too much. “Nothing noteworthy happened. She went for a swim around Valador and returned home in time to change back with no serious problems.”
Idun nodded. “How did she like Valador?”
“I suppose she liked it just fine.” Freya paused, trying to come up with a different word. “She seemed to have fun, at any rate.”
“Does that concern you?” The dryad cocked her head. “You’ve been worrying so much about her becoming a mermaid and, now, that seems more likely than ever.”
“It was just one time.” Freya told her, not sure who she was trying to convince. “It’s too early for her to make such a decision. Next month, she’s going to be human, anyway.”
“Well, I suppose that’s good.” Idun didn’t really sound convinced. “Freya, I don’t want you stressing yourself out over this. I can tell you’re worried, but that won’t change her decision. If, when the comet passes over, Aria chooses to become a mermaid, I need to know that you’re going to be okay with that.”
Freya looked at her friend, realizing she was truly concerned. She sighed, feeling guilty for causing her to worry. “I don’t want her to become a mermaid, but I won’t break down if she does. I will remain by her side, as I always have.”
Idun stared at her for another minute before she nodded. “Alright. I’ll accept that answer, for now. Just try to relax a little. This should be a time for celebration, since our three worlds are coming together. It wouldn’t do for us to be sad.”
Freya managed a smiled and nodded her understanding. “You’re right. I’ll try to be less of a downer.” She was being somewhat sarcastic, since she knew the other nymphs thought anyone who tried to take anything seriously was being depressing. However, she also realized that it was unfair to separate herself from them when making categories. She was a nymph and it was certainly unusual for one of them to behave as she had since meeting Aria. Humans came and went. That was the nature of the world. A nymph developing an attachment to one was just asking for pain. She understood why the others were so baffled and concerned by her relationship with Aria, even if their way of showing it was a little tiresome to the nereid. “Thanks for worrying about me, though. I want you to know that I understand you have my best interest at heart.”
Idun smiled at her. “Of course, we do. We’re basically family, after all.” She walked over and hugged Freya. “We’ll be there even after the human breaks your heart.”
“You don’t have to be so negative, you know.” Freya did her best to make her tone sound teasing, but she really was rather bothered by how certain the other nymphs were that Aria would hurt her. It didn’t even seem to be that they were concerned about Aria dying sooner.
Idun sighed and pulled away. “It’s inevitable, isn’t it? You’re on two different planes of existence, basically. She’ll age and outgrow you, eventually. Isn’t that why we don’t befriend mortals?”
The nereid frowned as she considered the point. “You jump to the conclusion that she will outgrow me, but isn’t it just as likely that I will grow tired of her as she gets older and I do not?”
The dryad gave her a sad smile. “If only you were such a person.”
Freya stared at her, not sure how to respond. “What do you mean by that?”
Rather than answering, Idun leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “We will be here for you, whatever the outcome of this relationship with your human.” She looked up towards their apartment window. “You should return to her, now. I expect you wouldn’t want her waking up without you there.”
Freya nodded, dumbly, and headed inside. She looked back to Idun, but the dryad was already walking away. Freya sighed as she headed to her apartment, thinking about the older nymph’s words. Idun had been a nymph for over a century before Freya became one. She was the eldest among their little group and they usually listened to her. It was hard for the nereid to convince herself that she was wrong in this instance and that things would work out. She closed the apartment door behind her, silently, not wanting to wake Aria.
She sighed, wondering if she was being foolish by keeping the girl so close. It wasn’t like her to develop an attachment to humans and she still didn’t understand what had drawn her to this one. She remembered the first time she noticed the girl swimming in the ocean. She had stuck out because she seemed so natural in the water, despite being human. Freya had watched her for a while that time and a few others. Eventually, she decided she wanted to be friends with the strange girl, so she became human and wound up working with her. After that, their friendship just developed and grew without Freya really meaning for that to happen. She had wanted to satisfy her curiosity and had landed in a complicated situation because of it.
The nymph flopped down on their couch and sighed, wondering how she had let all of this happen. She was an immortal being who had allowed herself to become attached to a mortal who wasn’t even meant to share her realm. Even to Freya, it seemed ridiculous.
“Freya?” Aria’s sleepy voice came from her bedroom door. “Are you asleep out here?”
The nymph smiled a little at the question. “Of course not. I told you that I never sleep.” She sat up and paused as she stared at the girl. Aria’s long hair was a mess since she hadn’t bothered to wash it after her swim. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, trying to get the sleep out of them. Freya covered her mouth, trying to suppress a laugh that came forth anyway.
“What?” Aria dropped her hand to her side to look at the girl. Her hard stare had very little effect in her current state.
Freya looked at her, managing to stop laughing. “I was just thinking that you are really cute like that.”
“You’re so weird.” Aria informed her. She reached up to touch her hair and frowned. “I’m going to take a shower.” She disappeared into the bathroom, leaving the nereid alone with her thoughts, once again.
Freya stared at the bathroom door for a minute, thinking that her friendship with the girl was really insane, but she didn’t regret it. She lay back down on the couch and closed her eyes with a smile. Whatever happened, she was glad she had gotten to know Aria.

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