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The Black Crystal
The dock sits above the water. The lake is still, and its reflection makes it look like a mass area of glass. I sit cross-legged, watching the dark clouds form above my head. It is going to storm soon.
I feel peaceful – for now. There is no sound but my own breathing and the chirping of crickets. It feels very quiet here, but I know I must be alert. They are coming. I can almost feel their hooves pounding on the ground behind me. As I sit in silence, I listen for the sound of horns or yells.
I’ve been on the run since last week. Being half-mermaid, half-human, it’s easy for me to get away. I have the uncanny ability to change quickly so that I could plunge into the water and stay there for an eternity. I may not be able to run as fast as a unicorn or a centaur, but I can swim faster. While they have to change to human form and wade in slowly, I could dash away faster than a cheetah runs.
But I can’t keep this up for long. I need someplace to stay for longer than twenty-four hours. They know it, too. They’re waiting for me to give up, but I will never go down without a fight.
There it is – the shouts of my pursuers. I stand up and prepare to change to scales and tail. The seaweed around my body that I use partly as a disguise is still wet from the last swim. It was a large lake deep with algae and kelp. They had trouble with that, so I had at least an hour to stop and rest, but now I must move on.
As soon as they arrive from the thick bushes and trees, they see me instantly.
“Halt!” one centaur calls, running towards me with amazing speed. “You are charged with stealing from the Queen! Halt, I tell you, halt!”
I stand there, still in my human form, watching them file one by one from the forest. When they get close enough, they smile and think they’ve had me cornered. I smile back at them and dive for the water in a graceful arch. Before I’ve hit the water, my legs have glued together and have turned deep green. They mould and form into my mother’s shape: a long, gleaming tail.
As soon as I’m underwater, I look at how deep it is. Fortunately, it’s deep enough for me to swim and not be seen. I push my fins and pump them, though they are sore from so much swimming and changing. The seaweed that is stuck to my breasts swings freely in the water, and my gills take in the oxygen that only fish feel. My long, dark brown hair sways with the water and follows me as I swim at a leisurely pace across the lake. I take a quick glance behind my shoulder and see the hooves swooshing through the water behind me. They haven’t bothered to take the time to change. I wonder why; it’s not like they don’t have the energy. We also all know that they’re not going to get me.
But then I see the danger.
Back at the dock, I didn’t notice it. But now up close I realize that I cannot escape here. The next island is covered in purple grass. It’s been poisoned specifically for mermaids.
Purple grass is what centaurs and unicorns eat to regain energy, but if a mermaid touches it her hand will burn to ashes. It kills instantly.
In panic I flip my tail and swing back around, but they have been looking closely for it the moment they hit the water. I see the hooves getting closer to me, and I consider my options, looking for a way out of the circle they are quickly forming around me.
I choose the obvious one and break to the surface, singing a traditional song that all mermaids learn. I sing with all my strength, but my energy is spent and it is not enough. The magical barrier is strong for a second and it holds them back, but then it shatters. My voice gets hoarse, and the centaurs and unicorns blink out of their trance.
They have been prepared for my predictable escape, and I see that the unicorns have used their own magic together to overcome mine. They move forwards in the water and the gap between us gets smaller and smaller. I am out of escape paths.
It can’t end this way, I think desperately. It just can’t.
I swim around frantically in small circles, trying to see a space that I could slip through. But I know that it has to be one shot. If I ever back out, I will get caught, and if it isn’t a big enough route, they will get me for sure.
The space between my pursuers and me finally closes as the leading centaur reaches me and grabs my wrist. I cry out in pain as he hauls me upwards, making me choke and sputter as I breathe through my lungs too early.
“You are charged with stealing from the Queen,” he says sternly. “You shall be taken back and will be forced to apologize if you wish to live.”
I narrow my eyes at him and kick my fins at him, splashing in his face. It would have been one of the worst things to do, but I was already a disgrace. I needed a way out of this. For every second that ticked by, I knew that there were less and less chances of my sliding by.
He doesn’t even loosen his grip. Now I know that I am caught and will not get away unless a miracle happens. Even if I know this, I don’t give up. As the centaur drags me out of the water and places me on his back, I make an attempt to splash back in the water. I do, but a unicorn thrusts its spear in my face and I back away slowly. If a unicorn wishes to kill, a single pierce would do.
I open my mouth and sing one last time. My heart cries out to the world, and I use up all of the energy that I have left. I only get one note out before the lead centaur punches me on the head. Darkness overcomes me.
I wake on his back. My head rests on his human back, and my arms twine around his stomach area of the human part of his body. In disgust I pull them away, but they are bound with thick and heavy ropes. I hiss and stare down at my tail. The bottom of it is tied in tight ropes, too. It’s withered and nearly all dried out as it flaps to the beat of the centaur’s walking pace. With great effort, I change back to my human form, feeling much better but still dehydrated. My ankles are tied, but it’s better than before. The state of my tail tells me that I’ve been unconscious for more than three hours.
The centaur turns his head around to look at me with amusement. “About time,” he says. I glare at him, not saying anything.
“I knew that our contraption would work,” the centaur declares proudly. “You know, it wasn’t even real purple grass. It was just an illusion created with the help of our unicorns.” He laughs as I coil up in anger.
I can’t believe it. I could have escaped had I known. In frustration I kick at his belly, and he grunts in surprise as his natural instinct causes him to pick up the pace. I smirk nastily to myself as he slows down with a frown.
“You are a disgrace, Kadia Delphada.”
I press my lips tightly together and don’t say anything.
“And quite interesting in your sleep.”
My ears perk up.
He smiles. “I hear that you are seeking the black crystal. That’s why you stole the Queen’s most valuable necklace. You wanted to try to make a deal.”
Holy Oceanus, how much has he heard? My personal plans are not to be discussed among ones who don’t deserve it.
“I heard everything,” he tells me, as if hearing my thoughts. “You baffle me, Miss Kadia,” the centaur muses. “I cannot believe that you have the courage to think that you can get away with taking the black crystal.”
For the first time, I speak. “I can’t believe that you have the courage to think that you can get away with telling me I don’t have the potential.”
He looks at me again and raises his eyebrows. “Miss Kadia, do you have any idea what the black crystal can do, and why it is hidden away in the possession of the Great Lord?”
I would cross my arms, but I can’t.
He may know my plans, but he doesn’t know that I carry a secret that I wouldn’t ever even dare to sleep-talk about.
I serve the Great Lord.
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