I sighed and a few bubbles floated from my lips, the little girl next to me giggled and poked at them so they popped. I smiled faintly before letting me usual scowl creep back into place.

I continued to be shoved and jostled as excited merfolk strained for a look at the parade. Someone pushed me roughly and I tumbled into the street. I righted myself quickly and turned an angry glare at the merman who had been the cause of my rather ungraceful fall. He didn't even glance at me. I turned back to the street fuming. I hate parades. However, coming to these blasted things was mandatory for everyone in the Kingdom. Failing to attend warranted a very unpleasant visit from the guard and that was attention I could definitely do without.

Doesn't it just make you crazy, wondering if you're the only sane mermaid left in the entire ocean? I mean, seriously, what kind of person makes a parade mandatory?

I watched in disgust as the answer to my question floated by in a dolphin-pulled chariot. The King's white hair was tied behind him with a silky green ribbon, clearly exposing his face. A satisfied smirk rested lazily on his lips as he looked out at his adoring subjects. Guards swam watchfully beside him, looking for any signs of trouble. One look at the deadly spears they carried assured there would be no such thing. I snorted; it was all for show really. Merpeople were rarely killed, such displays were barbaric and unseemly. We left the murdering of our own kind to humans. The worst the King could do was banishment.

Behind the King came his two eldest daughters Coral and Pearl. The twins shared the same golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes and each was heavily adorned in her namesake. They waved out at the crowd smiling arrogantly as people cheered and called their names. Really, it was a wonder they didn't float to the surface with all the hot air filling their otherwise empty heads. I found it terribly sad that in the eyes of the kingdom these two were viewed as perfection.

Finally on the back of a rather large sea turtle was the youngest princess, Cassara. She was nothing like her sisters, instead of smiling and waving she kept her head ducked so that her black hair fell over her face, obscuring everything except a pair of startling green eyes. She was quiet; never speaking unless her green eyes turned black and a vision overtook her. Everyone but a few trusted servants avoided her, and like a shadow she was always followed by whispers. A shiver ran down my spine as her turtle passed by me and her green eyes settled on me. The little girl who had giggled earlier now clung tightly to her mother, her face buried in a mass of silver hair. A single word hissed through the crowd as Cassara passed "Witch". I cringed as I felt more than saw the hurt that filled Cassara's eyes, which were still fixed firmly on me. I felt a sudden surge of sympathy for the girl, she was after all only 13 and I too knew what it felt like to be alone.

I couldn't take it anymore. I turned my back on the parade and swam down a few alleyways. Dark had begun to fall and I had work to do. I swam down the empty streets moving easily from shadow to shadow. It would have been so easy to slip in and take something from the empty houses but where is the fun in that? No, tonight I needed a challenge, something to put my perfected skills to the test. A slow wicked smile curved onto my face as the King's palace came into view. It would be my greatest accomplishment.

I took half an hour to study the layout of the palace before ducking into an old, abandoned, starfish warehouse to wait. I leaned my head back against the wall and closed my eyes, letting my mind wander.

To be caught would mean banishment from the kingdom but I had no intention of getting caught. I scowled, and even if I were, it wouldn't matter. I had no family to lose, no home to leave. I had lived in a cave alone as long as I could remember. Sometimes a memory of a dark hair maiden crooning softly or another woman, this one with soft green hair would invade my thoughts but they simply shadows of a forgotten memory. What things I did remember were vague, me swimming wild as a child, chasing dolphins and eating seaweed until I was old enough to learn the "magic" art of stealing.

My eyes opened and a smile tugged at my lips. Being a thief was really a rather perfect profession for someone like me. My dark purple tail blended seamlessly with shadows and my violet hair, which shone red in light, turned into a dark ink cloud that kept my features and unique amethyst eyes shrouded from view. Plus I was quiet and clever, with years of practice behind me. I was, what some might call, a master.

Time passed and the streets filled with chattering merfolk, only to empty again soon after as mermaids and mermen returned to their homes and went to bed. When everything had gone completely still I began to move. Slowly I wrapped black cloth around my torso and head so that only my eyes stood out in the darkness. I swam out a window and moved silently toward the palace.

Guards paced around the walls, always staring blankly in front of them. Earlier I had found the perfect place to enter. A small window just big enough for a slim, petite body to slide through, sat just above the sandy ground. I waited for the next guard to pass before shooting forward and through the cloth that served as a barrier between the palace and outside world. Inside was pitch black, I paused until my well-trained eyes became accustomed enough to make out faint shapes in the room before me. I guessed from the various pots and pans that I was in a kitchen. Carefully I picked my way across the room to another piece of cloth, this one serving as a door and went through. I pressed myself into the shadows, watching for anything resembling a guard, dolphin or squid. It seemed the hallway was deserted but still I edged cautiously along the wall, avoiding the circles of light cast from glow bubbles. At the end of the hall was a stairway and I stopped mentally going over the palace layout. My target was Pearl and Coral's bedchambers, which had been conveniently located just several stories above my little window. So according to logic just going up would get me where I wanted to be. Easy.

As I made my way up the stairs, a terrible sense of foreboding settled over me. It was too easy. It was expected that security would be a little lacking since crime of any sort was a rarity in Antoria but still, I hadn't come across a single guard beside the first one outside. I shook my head and pushed my unsettling thoughts aside, they would only serve to distract me.

I came to a pair of rooms with actual doors made from stone and decorated with elaborate carvings. This had to be the princess's rooms. I pushed one open a crack and slid through, closing it behind me. A single light-filled globe shone softly in a little alcove above the door making patterns and shadows on the wall that flickered and danced. I swam stealthily over to a large vanity where a few strings of pearls were scattered and several pieces of bright colorful coral rested. I moved them noiselessly to my bag and turned to leave. The person in the bed stirred and I stopped. I dropped my body so that it seemed to melt into the dark floor and began inching back toward the door. A single cry of what almost seemed like pain halted me again and I hesitated before creeping back toward the person. Whichever girl it was, she was still asleep but she tossed and turned violently, trying to escape whatever dream demon pursued her. I relaxed a bit at knowing the person was not awake and allowed myself to rise off the floor so I could peer at the princess. I couldn't quite make out which girl it was, she was tangled in blankets and pillows, which thrashed and moved with her body keeping her face from view. Suddenly she stopped and to my horror shot up and grabbed my arm. Instead of the crystal blue eyes and blonde hair I expected, I came face to face with a wild mass of dark hair that seemed to stand out with electricity and a pair of terrified black eyes.

"Fire!" The word came out as a broken sob. Cassara's hands gripped both my arms, her nails digging into my flesh. "Fire Aisha!" And then she screamed. I ripped my arms away and backed away into the wall. She no longer looked at me, her eyes, still black with visions, poured tears while she screamed and writhed on her bed. I could hear the distant sound of guards clanging their way toward Cassara's bedroom I had to get out of there. Fast! I swam to the window and cast a last scared look at the girl now sobbing painfully on the bed, the guards crashed through the door and I bolted out the window. I could hear cries of "Seize her!" and "Halt!" but I ignored them and pumped my tail faster. The surface, if I could make it to the surface I would be safe.

I almost grinned at the pure rush of it all, adrenaline was surging through my body. The powerful thrusts of my purple tail shot me through the water and the cries became more distant as the surface grew nearer. They were slowing down, while I was still picking up speed, eventually I could no longer hear them but I didn't stop, not yet. I burst from the water and into the air laughing, in the cold open air my voice sounded strange, loud and harsh, I quickly quieted myself. I was breathing hard and a genuine smile was etched on my face until the reason for the chase slammed back into me, leaving me breathless. Cassara, the princess… She knew my name.

I hadn't heard my name spoken in years. I hadn't spoken to anyone but myself in years so how did she know? Aisha, it would have been the sweetest sound I ever heard if not for what she had said with it. Fire, she had been terrified when she said it but why should she be scared of fire? We lived under the water! There was no fire. Ever.

I turned my face to the sky and floated on my back trying to think. She had been having a vision, of that I was sure, something about fire and…me? She had been in pain as if she herself were experiencing the fire. It made no sense! I tried to clear my mind. Instead of thinking I let myself become immersed in the beauty of the moon and stars. This was a rare pleasure, one I did not often allow myself. I found the night sky absolutely intoxicating but the surface was dangerous, crawling with those rotten barbarians, humans.

I floated there for a long time before I realized just what I was seeing. Grey smoke was curling into the sky and veiling the silver stars. I lifted my head and turned my body toward the source of the smoke. The air tasted stale and ashy in my mouth. I was beginning to hear the sound of yelling and screaming and one word stood out above all the others, my blood went cold. "Fire." I swam toward the shouting and when I finally came into view of the ship, I understood why Cassara had writhed and cried out in pain. It was terrible. The grand ship lit up the sky as the flames devoured the wood and sails. It had a terrible beauty about it. Flames reached like fingers for the cool velvet of the sky, sparks flew into the night popping and exploding in a shower of gold. I was shocked out of my trance by a cry so full of raw pain my very soul quaked, a man stood on the railing his hair burning and his clothes tattered and flaming. Even from my distance I could smell his burning flesh and practically see his skin bubble with heat. I bit back bile and looked away.

Nearby, men with boats rowed frantically, trying to get away from the devastation of the dying ship. One little boat still waited by the flame-engulfed ship, a single man crying into the flames.

"Ryan! Your highness! GET OFF THE DAMN BOAT!" Someone was still on the boat? Why was someone still on the boat? What kind of moron would stay on a burning boat! A dog came flying over the edge barking madly, it hit the water and began swimming toward the waiting boat and the man helped it in before looking worriedly back at the ship. "RYAN!" A figure appeared on the railing and my stomach twisted as I remembered the last man to stand there burning, dying. This one was not on fire but standing their holding onto a rope. He positioned his body so that he was poised to dive but before he got a chance there was a loud crack and hell seemed to explode. The ship had broken in two and the front half was sinking quickly into the waves, the man was gone. I searched the water frantically and was just in time to see a still figure slipping beneath the waves. Fast as my tail could carry me I raced for the man and pulled him out of his downward spiral through the cold ocean. I hauled him to the surface and began heading for land. I was saving a human, an actual human! What was wrong with me? The image of the burning man flashed through my mind again and I shuddered. No this was right. To die in the clashing embrace of fire and water was a death I wished on no one. Not even an uncivilized barbarian.

A/N. Well here is my new story (if anybody checks profiles then you will know what I'm talking about) I am actually very proud of this chapter but what do you guys think? Yay or nay? REVIEW and tell me!!!!! This chapter is kind of an introduction to what I think will be most of the main characters. Others should be longer. Also I wasn't sure about the rating for this one, I mean the man burning to death wasn't worthy of more than teen was it? Again review and tell me!!! You KNOW I LOVE your input and advice!!! Plus it makes me happy and when I'm happy I update faster! One last thing when Aisha says "Does it ever make you crazy wondering if your the last sane mermaid in the entire ocean" I kind of took the line from "Hitch" and messed with it, so don't like sue me or anything. REVIEW!...please.