He left early the next day for two reasons. First, because Douglas wasn't entirely sure of how far away Kraken's lair actually was, and second because he figured it might be a good idea to avoid the King for a while, especially considering how close yesterday had come to a conversation that could have ended very badly.
Almost an hour's worth of swimming later, Douglas finally neared the rock formations that made up the "gateway" of the reclusive mermaid's home. He slowed his pace, hesitant about possibly making the wrong entrance. From the stories, Kraken could do a lot worse than just throw out unwanted guests; they could be turned into fish food or worse, and fed to his fearsome pets. The stories weren't completely clear on what sort of fearsome pets Kraken owned, but imagination supplied those nicely.
Summoning his courage—he wanted to learn about the humans—he swam through the formations. They closed in over and around, forming eerie, tunnel-like canals. Something small and fast darted past him and Douglas stopped short.
"...hello?" he called, nervous. "Is someone there? I'm, uh, I'm here to, ah, to speak to Kraken?"
"Whatever for," a voice from nowhere replied. Douglas started and hastily swam in a circle.
"I-I had a question, well, questions, for him. About the surface. The people. You know, the humans? I-he-well I read that someone, er, might be able to help?"
"Oh. There's no helping that. I suppose you may come in."
"Come in? Um..."
"Right here." A light Douglas hadn't noticed before it hadn't been there before was now shining to show the entrance of a cave.
"Oh. Ah, thank you." He swam in, not sure what to expect. All for the pursuit of knowledge...
Kraken was intimidating up close, Douglas decided nervously, as he took in the abnormal hair and tentacles that hadn't been exaggerated at all. And the way the tentacles moved as if they had minds of their own was not comforting in the least.
The seawitch was at an odd looking table filled with strange vessels and unusual looking things. He glanced over his shoulder at Douglas almost lazily, but his eyes narrowed immediately and Douglas fought to keep from swimming backwards.
"Soo! Stop that at once!"
Soo? What-- A tiny blur of water zoomed past Douglas and sped in circles around Kraken's head, calming to peer at Douglas from a distance. Its nose twitched.
Douglas's eyes widened. "What is that?"
Kraken seemed more concerned with watching the second—thing join the first in suspiciously sizing Douglas up. "Shi, don't glare at the guest; we don't even know why he's here." He looked distractedly over. "Hmm? Oh, they're mersquirrels. I don't suppose you've heard of them."
"Yes. Soo, Shi, our guest..." he looked expectantly at Douglas.
Douglas started. Again. "Oh! Yes, hello. I'm Douglas."
"Douglas. Shi and Soo." Kraken nodded. "There now, you've been introduced. I trust there are no more questions?"
"About them," Kraken corrected himself. "Have you been fed?"
"The-the mersquirrels?" Douglas floundered.
Kraken just looked at him, tilting his head first from one side to the other. "Rainbows," he murmured to himself. "You wished to learn about humans?"
Douglas nodded eagerly. Finally he was on the right page. "Yes! You see, about a week and a half ago I saw humans for the first time. One male talked to me, though I don't think he saw my tail. I've been observing them as best as I can, and I swam as far near shore as I dared to watch one up close—it turned out to be the same male, and our meeting wasn't the best one, but I want to know more about them. We have no history about humans and there's no way for me to learn about them confined as I am. I was hoping maybe you could tell me more."
Kraken nodded. "You're interested in this man?"
"Of course! I've never seen--"
"That will do, that will do." Kraken tapped one long finger against his chin, his tentacles moving about restlessly as he thought. "I think I can do it. It was done once. Pity about the ending."
"I'm sorry, I don't--"
Muttering to himself and completely ignoring Douglas, Kraken turned back to his table and busily started putting something together. Soo and Shi zoomed about the work space fetching things that Kraken's tentacles didn't grab.
At first Douglas was unnerved by the display, especially watching all the different bits of the seawitch move with separate, intent purpose, but his curiosity got the better of him and soon he had moved closer to watch in fascination as Kraken worked.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed when Kraken moved back to face him, but Douglas hadn't noticed it gone by. Kraken looked puzzled to see that his guest had moved.
"You're over here now," he said, glancing back across the cave to where the mermaid had previously floated.
"I watched," Douglas admitted. "Is that all right?"
Kraken blinked. "I suppose." He held up a vial. "I can use this to help you," he said."It'll give you legs."
"Legs?" Douglas asked astonished. "What, like-like humans have?"
"Yes. And lungs, so you can breathe there. Handy spell, to include those. Suffocation is to be avoided." He shot a glance at Soo, who chitter-bubbled sheepishly and darted into a crevice of rock.
Douglas stared at the vial. "So...I just take that...and I get legs? So I can observe humans as a human?"
"Almost. There is the price, of course. To be paid first. Ah..." He glanced down to skim a sheet of paper held in one tentacle. "Oh, yes, your voice, and if you don't get him to kiss you in three days you return to your mermaid form and will never be able to walk among humans again."
"My voice?" Douglas mused. "That's an odd condition..." then the rest of the stipulations sunk in and he blanched. "Kiss him? What-whatever for?!"
Kraken tilted his head again. "To prove that he's your true love. True love's kiss in three days time or you won't be able to be with him--" Shi chitter-bubbled loudly. "No, I take his voice. It sounds like apricots."
"True love?" Douglas sputtered, "What in the seas? He's not my true love! I've only just met the man! I haven't even met him; I've observed his species and accidentally knocked him unconscious with my tail!"
"Oh dear." Several of the tentacles coiled and uncoiled. "That doesn't sound like a good first impression if you're in love with him. Or at all."
"I'm not in love with him!"
"Shi, hush. How am I supposed to know? Are you sure?" The last question, Douglas gathered, was aimed at him.
"Yes I'm sure!"
Kraken peered at him. "Are you going to be?"
"I certainly hope not," Douglas replied indignantly. "That is so many kinds of bad idea I wouldn't know where to begin."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You could begin with song. Since you won't be able to." Kraken wiggled the bottle then set it down on the table. "Since your voice will be gone."
"I am absolutely tone-deaf," Douglas replied staunchly. "And I can't see how singing helps any."
"Oh," Kraken replied, "it doesn't. But it would be a place to begin. Would you still like the legs? And lungs?"
"Um..." Douglas blinked. "I wouldn't have to kiss this man if I did, would I?"
"Only if you wanted to stay a human forever."
Douglas shrank back in horror. "Why would anyone want to do that?"
Kraken turned away from Douglas again to browse through the contents of a trunk in one of the higher cervices. "Rollerskating," the seawitch called down, in answer to the question. "You can't do that without feet. And you needs legs for those. Mostly. And automobiles. They don't work underwater." Something in the seawitch's tone led Douglas to believe that whatever automobiles were, Kraken knew they didn't work because he had tried.
"What's a rollerskating?" Douglas called, curious.
"What's your favorite color?"
"Uh, blue?" Douglas replied, caught off guard.
"It would be blue," Kraken murmured as he came back down. "Can we pretend that it is purple? I don't have blue."
"Don't have what--"
"Rollerskating is a game humans play, involving a foot-covering called a 'rollerskate'. It covers the foot and has wheels on the bottom. It is a mode of transportation that requires balance because you are very likely to fall down if you lack it."
Douglas blinked. "Oh. Thank you. But—if you know so much about humans, could you tell me more?"
"I could, but that would cost something else."
"Like what?" Douglas asked eagerly.
"I'm not sure yet. It would depend." Kraken held out a bundle of cloth. "This is for you. It's included."
"Of course. You have observed them before, so you know which is for the top and which is for the bottom."
"But-but if you could just tell me more about them—I'm documenting what I'm learning, think of the--"
"First hand is better than second hand," Kraken interrupted. "That's why you have two; so that you know the difference." He picked up the vial again with one tentacle, another holding the sheet of paper. "Your voice for three days. No kisses and you come back to normal after. Then we can talk about more information, if you'd like."
"Not that I'm really planning on kissing anyone, but what happens if I do?" He wanted to cover all the bases here; if getting kissed by anyone, even by accident, was enough to make the legs permanent, there was no way he was doing the spell.
Kraken stared at the vial. He really did look like his namesake then; a seawitch staring at a spell, his hair floating about his head like tendrils of black seaweed, his tentacles absently milling about below. It was almost enough to make Douglas nervous again.
"I think it must be about love," Kraken said softly, after a time. "She was in love, though it was the silly kind, and he...might have been. A loose definition of it then. He might have thought it was love. She thought so. You must think it, whether it is deep for others won't matter. There was a play about that."
"A-a play?" Douglas asked, mystified. There were dozens of plays about love.
"Yes. With a balcony. And stars. Stars fall sometimes, mix with raindrops and dreams and when you wish upon a star..." Kraken trailed off and looked back to Douglas.
"I...see." He didn't see, but trying to follow Kraken was giving him a headache. "You know, you're nothing like what others say."
Both Soo and Shi chitter-bubbled at Douglas angrily before speeding to hide behind Kraken's bony shoulders. The seawitch ignored them and cocked an eyebrow with interest. "What do others say?"
Suddenly awkward, Douglas shifted. "Um...you—well, they—there are stories of others who came, and had to pay, well, they had to—and you could feed people to your pets, and, and, uh, that you weren't...nice?"
"Oh," was the reply in a voice without interest. "That isn't worth paying for at all. Nothing new, all to be expected. Soo, don't start. You know." The mersquirrel retreated back to it's place behind Kraken's shoulder. "Now then. Voice for legs for three days, no true love kisses and no problem. If you'd like, you may come to me after you are done. It would not be a visit; I will pay for your information. Perhaps with information of mine."
"That sounds very fair," Douglas said, pleased to be able to follow the conversation again.
"Something for nothing never works, unless it's twisted or freely given or laced with butterfly wings." Several tentacles moved at once, grabbing the vial, a mirror, a small, round white stone, a gold chain. Kraken seemed to have forgotten Douglas all together as he turned away to concentrate on something else. "Memory...all alone in the moonlight, I remember..." he hummed, then stopped. "But those aren't mine, are they? In time gone by..."
Douglas swam forward despite himself. "Are you...are you all right?"
Kraken held up a hand, though he did not turn. "You stay there. We've agreed." A tentacle thrust the white stone into Douglas's hands. "Now to begin."
Douglas woke up with a really, really bad headache. He moved to push himself up and out of the sand, then paused and looked up.
He'd washed up on the shore of the beach not too far from where he'd observed the man yesterday. But he was completely on the shore. Two legs lay limply where his tail was supposed to be. He stared at them, wide-eyed.
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh seas, oh dear, he really did it. Fighting down panic, Douglas instead tried to move one of his legs. It moved. He rotated one foot, then the other, wiggled his toes. Everything worked perfectly, like he'd been born a human. Feeling a little more sure of himself, he stood up.
And then promptly fell back down into the sand. This was hard!
He got up again, shakily, holding his arms out wide for balance. This time he was able to hold the position for a few seconds before falling over again, but not before he had glanced down to see what it looked like. Panicking again, he looked frantically around for the bundle of cloth that Kraken had given him.
Forgot about it before, carp, carp, carp! He spotted the purple and black bundle a few feet away near a rocky formation and pulled himself over to it. Then it was just a matter of detangling the things to come up with a separate top piece of clothing and bottom piece of clothing. The bottom piece was plain black and he started with it first, working to maneuver first one leg in and then the other. He was able to hike the cloth legs halfway up his own and managed to wriggle the rest of the way in. The band on top settled on his hips and he tightened the strings there so that the clothing wouldn't fall back down.
Looking down to asses himself, he was mostly satisfied with what he saw now. The bottoms seemed to fall just like normal humans' did, even though they were soaked and coated in sand. They also...covered, and he was thankful of that. No wonder humans all wore bottom coverings if their nakedness looked like that, all out in the open! It was positively obscene. And he was uncomfortably certain that bits of anatomy had moved around with the transformation. He made an very uneasy mental note to check himself over completely later on. Knowing where things were was...important.
At least his top half felt normal, for the most part. He had gained a bulk human males seemed to carry in their shoulders, and he'd lost his arm fins, but aside from that he was still as sleek as he always was. He eyed the shirt with distaste. It was clingy and wet and full of sand and would stick to him and be uncomfortable if he wore it. With the land just dry the sand wasn't going to wash away and the top wasn't going to billow and let water through; it would just sit there and stick.
But humans wore shirts...
Sighing heavily, startled when the only noise that came out was a puff of air before remembering his voice was now gone, Douglas pulled the shirt over his head. It was a dark purple, darker now because it was soaked so that it looked almost black itself. Well, half black. A lot of it was beige thanks to a layer of sand. Sand was never this annoying underwater.
Once the shirt was suitably in place, Douglas grabbed onto the rocks and hauled himself up, using them as another balance so he could get his footing. Then, carefully, still clinging tightly to the rocks, he took a step.
A ridiculous thrill of success ran through him as he managed to not fall over. Walking. He was walking! With legs. He took another step, and then another, and then ran out of rock to hold on to.
Startled into turning towards the sound, Douglas let go of the rock and collapsed to the ground again.
When he heard the pounding of feet on sand coming closer, he scrambled into a sitting position to stare at the newcomer. Oh seas... it was the man. Again.
The man came over and knelt next to Douglas, taking in the soaked, sand-covered clothes. "Hey, you alright? You look like you just washed up from a shipwreck."
Douglas froze, feeling very much like he was staring down a hungry shark. He couldn't talk, and even if he could he didn't have an explanation. He really hadn't thought this far.
Choosing to make the concern go away, he just shook his head. Maybe the man would leave...?
"Calm now," the man told him. I am calm! Mostly! Oh seas, this wasn't in the plan. "I'm not going to hurt you. You look as if you've seen a ghost."
Not knowing what else to do, and unable to escape since he still hadn't grasped walking yet, Douglas just shook his head again. He eyed the water, wondering if he dared try make a scramble towards it. Of course, if he was so unused to this body on land, what would it be like trying to swim with it?
"Hey, hey," the man put a hand on his shoulder. Douglas almost jumped out of his skin. "It's okay!" He lowered his voice. "You're not all right, are you? Look, my name's Phillip, I live just over this stretch of beach. Maybe you should come with me, get you warm and dry, some food?"
Douglas was torn. On the one hand, this screamed bad idea in way too many languages. He wouldn't know what to do, or how to act, or eat what did humans eat for food, and he couldn't even walk and that'd be fairly obvious and probably really suspicious, not to mention that what if, after a while, this—Fillup recognized him. Not a good thing.
But on the other...this was a chance to get into the home of a real, live human, and learn about what they did, and how they acted, and what they ate. He might never get an opportunity like this again, and three days wasn't really when you needed to collect as much information as you possibly could.
Fillup must have noticed his hesitation, and he smiled in what seemed to be an attempt at comfort. "I won't force you of course, but you look like you're in a bad way. How'd you get here anyway?"
Douglas sighed inwardly and shrugged. Then, deciding to get the point across, he gestured at his throat and shook his head.
"...you can't speak?"
Douglas nodded rapidly.
"Oh. I see." Fillup looked like he wanted to say or ask something else, but instead he just stood up and offered a hand. "Well, you coming?"
Douglas sighed, hid a cringe, and took the man's hand.
Getting to Fillup's house hadn't been easy, mostly because Douglas still couldn't walk properly. Luckily the man seemed to think this was because Douglas had been injured somehow, so he didn't seem to want an explanation. Unluckily, it meant that the entire trip was half leaning-on, half being-dragged-by Fillup.
The house itself was very large. Douglas didn't know how large normal human dwellings were, but something about this place just seemed bigger than necessary. Maybe it was because of the 'stairs' that went up way too high into another floor. Humans seemed to really like using their legs.
Fillup led Douglas to a bench, and the mermaid gratefully sank down onto it. Walking was nothing like swimming and he was tired.
"Can I get you something to drink? Eat?"
Douglas shook his head. He didn't really feel up to doing anything right now, much less figure out human food.
"Okay." Fillup sat down across from Douglas. "Can I ask you some questions then?" At Douglas's expression, the man amended, "Just yes or no stuff. You can nod or shake your head."
He smothered another sigh and nodded. This was why he didn't socialize. But at least he didn't have a voice to make the extra blunder.
"Great!" Fillup smiled.
Great thought Douglas, but with considerably less glee, trying to smile too.