“Am I doomed to live in the sea forever?” Malial asked.

“If the answer exists,” said the old man, “it exists under the ocean where your mistake was made.”

“Wait for me?” asked Malial.

“I will wait until dawn,” said the old man. “Then, I will take these oysters and leave.”

Malial nodded sadly and dived under the water. His vestigial lungs burned as he tried to hold onto the air from the surface. Malial felt he might drown. He let go and regained peace with the water.

Without a plan, Malial swam back the way he had come. Once more, faith and hope, his only allies.

Unless you are unfortunate enough to have been transformed into a sea monster, it is impossible to understand what the realm under the sea is truly like. When, for example, an hour after he left the old man Malial had an undersea conversation, words were not used. It is safe to say that this conversation took place in a way entirely alien to anyone who normally communicates in an air based environment. Legends are frequently light on details when it comes to the finer points of magic. My advice to you is to not think about it too hard – your mind is simply not equipped to deal with such things. Try not to worry about matters you do not understand.

After an hour alone with his thoughts, Malial was aimlessly swimming somewhere close to where he had harvested the oysters. Malial was considering how he might live out the rest of his life under water. The longer he remained, the fainter his memory of his old life became.

It was around this time that Malial caught sight of the mermaid. It was at the exact same time that she caught sight of him. Their eyes met and, if bards were to tell of that moment then there would probably be soft romantic music to go with the story. It was that sort of moment.

There is a feeling when two souls that are destined to be together first meet each other. A feeling that lets them know that they have met someone with whom they can fall in love for the rest of their life. There are some who are able to instantly recognise that they have met their soul mate. Malial was not one of those people.

“Hello,” said the mermaid, blushing slightly.

It’s one thing to understand a language due to magic but it is quite another to learn to talk all over again quite so soon after being transformed into a monster. Malial tried to speak but all he managed with a blood-curdling roar.

The mermaid shot away as fast as she could.

On instinct, Malial swam after her. He was faster but, among the corals, she was agile. He roared again in frustration. The beast he was becoming, taking over for a moment. He tried again. “Please wait,” he called, realising that he knew how to speak. As I said, magic is like that.

The mermaid looked back and that certain something passed between them again.

She stopped.

Malial stopped too.

They looked at each other and no one said anything for a while.

After a few moments, she smiled. “My name is Cantrelle,” said the mermaid. She didn’t actually say the name Cantrelle, there’s no air-breather parallel to what she said but Cantrelle was the name she gave on the surface so we shall stick with that.

“Malial,” said Malial. The way they were communicating made his name seem pretty hilarious but the effect would be lost on surface dwellers like you.

“What a funny name,” said Cantrelle. She said this because all surface names sound (in the loosest possible sense of the word) ridiculous communicated under water. Something I am pretty sure I just told you. Pay attention already.

“I happen to like it,” said Malial. “It is my name.”

“I’m sorry,” said the mermaid swimming backwards (which is quite hard to do when swimming forwards is the only way you can breathe). “Please don’t eat me.”

“Why would I eat you?” Malial followed her, matching his forward speed to her reverse speed.

“That’s what vodníoy do,” said Cantrelle, looking nervous.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Malial. “Why would you stop to talk to a monster that might eat you?”

Cantrelle blushed. While she could not understand what she felt, she felt it nevertheless. “I had a good feeling about you,” she said.

It was Malial’s turn to blush. Although, in his case all that happened was he became a slightly darker shade of green. “I’m not really a monster,” he said. “I accidentally swallowed an enchanted stone and am trapped like this.”

“That was silly,” said Cantrelle. She swam closer which suggested to Malial that she believed him. She did, but she also really needed to breathe.

“It was your fault,” said Malial defensively. “You startled me while I had it in my mouth.”

Cantrelle stared at Malial. For the first time, she connected the magic which had frightened her earlier and the creature in front of her. “You were the thief robbing my father’s oyster bed?”

Malial, who was scrupulously honest, was horrified to discover he was a thief. “I didn’t know I was stealing,” he said. He held up his hands in protest which looked exactly like he was about to attack.

Cantrelle flinched. “What’s done is done,” she said. She swam just out of reach of the vicious claws. “What were you doing swimming with a magic stone in the first place?”

“I needed oysters, to get pearls, to get a magic stone, to defeat an evil lord and save my family,” said Malial. “Now I am trapped in the sea and cannot save them.”

What was left of Cantrelle’s smile, vanished. “Family?” she asked. “Your wife and children?”

Malial shook his head, a gesture lost on the mermaid. “My parents and siblings,” he said.

Cantrelle smiled. “Maybe I can help,” she said. “And next time, try harvesting oysters in the shallows. It’s far safer that way.”

She led him away but, although she was helping, their destination was a dark, dark path.

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