"Lady Sea-Witch is my potion ready yet?" the Mermaid whispered, wringing her hands as her bright green tail twitched back and forth like an anxious ship-cat.

From beneath the folds of his cloak, Zale sneered. He hated being referred to as 'Lady'. It was both demeaning and emasculating, but he could hardly let anyone see his face. Not if he wanted to avoid the quick, unjust execution that would undoubtedly follow if they knew the truth.

So ignoring the Maid, Zale continue shearing the bowel of the red Coral sea-snake; his slim, almost feminine fingers easing it from its carcass.

"Is it ready?" she whispered again,

"It's ready" he snapped back, manipulating his voice so it could barely be heard in the silence of the abyss where his cave laid. He held the bottle to her teasingly.

The Mermaid reached forward, her hands clenching and uncleaning as crab pincers often did. 'Typical.' Zale rolled his eyes 'The blatant greed of Mermaids is truly a sight to behold. How the sailors would weep if they knew the pure, sweet water-nymphs they envisioned were nothing more than vindictive fools with pretty faces.'

But before the Maids fingertips could even caress the bottle's glass, Zale pulled it back again, into the sheer volume of his cloak. "Stupid Wench" he scolded "You forget your place, amongst other things" he held out his hand ", like my payment?"

Though she couldn't see it, he grinned at the shock that patterned across her face, "You're not serious!"

"You didn't think you'd get a potion of this quality for free did you?" he asked incredulously.

When her face remained astonished, Zale snarled. 'Great'. Another stupid mermaid under the misconception the Sea-Witch's curse to serve them without refusal, extended to a service without pay.

"My payment Wench," Zale spat, biting his lip to distract from his temper, lest he do something foolish like slice her neck off ", I want seven of your tail-scales." Mermaid scales were used in memory curses. He wanted to be rich in ingredients for such things.

But the silly chit crossed her arms, glaring "Or what? Remember Witch, you can't hurt me. Your ancestors saw to that."

"True," Zale tossed the potion bottle back and forth in his pale hands, her eyes followed his every motion ", my curse does prohibit me from doing you any harm." He paused, his voice going quiet as blood, "but I can hardly be held responsible for simply calling my pet. Remember Maid, the Black Serpent of the Outlands?" he smiled "And if there should so happen to be a meal in the vicinity…well…you know how hard it can be to control your pets."

The Maid pulled back in terror. Zale liked that response. Too many Merfolk had come to think of him as some kind of servant. He only wanted her scales; it wasn't as if he was asking for her soul. But then, Mermaids believed giving any part of yourself to the sea-witch was the same as giving your soul, that's why he so loved taking them.

They needed to be reminded just how dangerous he really was.

Eventually the Maid snatched a knife from the shelf and picked at the tiny delicate scales at the base of her tail fin. They came away in minuscule clouds of blood. She scooped them in her hands before they could float out of reach, "Here, take it!"

Zale extended a long, slicked black tentacle from the shadows. She hesitantly dropped the scale in, disgust twisting on her face.

He counted out the pretty green scales, poured them into a glass stopper acquired from the human world, muttered a quiet spell and placed them onto one of the ominous ridges of his cave, alongside other strange glowing bottles. It was Zale's practice to coat all his possessions with a thin slice of air to keep it fresh, especially the plants and herbs from the world above.

It was advanced magic, and he could only hope it terrified her.

The mermaid continued wringing her hands, eager to be out of his presence, " Will that be all Lady Wit—No!"

Without warning Zale tossed the youth-potion at the maid, watching with amusement as she scrambled to catch it. When she did, she cradled the bottle close and turned tail without another word.

He pulled his cloak and threw it aside, relishing the cold. After so long in the abyss, Zale wasn't used to warmth. Mermaids couldn't handle the freezing temperatures of the Outlands, but Zale had been born here, his ancestors lived here for generations since their banishment by the original King Trident, the cold was engraved into his very soul.

He breathed deeply, trying with all his might to calm his rage and desire to find that mermaid and rip her to pieces, Oceans law be dammed. The mermaid's request had interrupted his earlier task of searching for something human to put in the shipyard. He had wanted to be finished in time to have a quiet night, but he hadn't able to refuse. So hours' worth of time was wasted and now he was late. The celebrations would be starting soon.

'So how dare she turn her back on me!'

He longed to carve her spine from her back, the way he'd gutted that Coral Sea-snake.

Soon, the voices began to whisper. Crowing in the back of his mind like an eclipse of reason. Quickly, Zale snatched a dagger from the worktable and plunged it into his thigh. The bitter pain only partly calmed his raging blood, so he began to list all the ingredients for a complex spell, a practice that had been drilled into him by his mother. It did little good, however all the beatings that would follow his disobedience had ingrained it too deeply into his habits to stop now.

But when it still did not work, he unhooked the charm around his neck, his most powerful object. The tiny orb was as big as half a fist, with a clouded, milky surface white as an eye. Zale caressed it hesitantly before closing his eyes and summoning its power of sight.

It should be about late noon, perhaps it was not too late.

On the orbs smooth surface, a picture began to form of King Amon's royal palace. They were preparing for the concert, celebrating the Birthday of the Kings three youngest daughters. Princess Ileana, Forlorna and Evelyn.

Merfolk rushed around with no direction, as humans did during their own royal gatherings. If only the King knew how similar his people were to the humans he so detested, he would mangle his own tail in anguish.

Zale tried not to think too much, lest it disturb his concentration and ruin the vision.

And he had to see her.

The vision changed, now he was in the great hall, surrounded by hundreds of vile Merfolk. Gold, brown and red hair gleamed in the artificial light of their pathetic king's magic.

The king's daughters were hidden behind a screen, forbidden to be seen by any merman until they were married, but no screen could keep Zale's Orb out. They took their placed in the coliseum, again another resemblance to human culture.

When the first of the two, Ileana and Forlorna began to sing, it only seemed to infuriate him further. Zale felt his blood boiling, the murderous voices screamed for destruction.

But then Evelyn took the stage and began her song. The voices were instantly silenced to a dull roar and Zale fell forward, panting heavily.

Unlike her silly sisters, whose voices were too high pitched, Evelyn's voice was strong, more human. She sang of the sailors in their travels against the dreaded Sorianth, the Black Serpent who guarded the Outlands. Her voice soared through the hall over the wave currents. Zale rested his forehead against the Orb.

It was humiliating that a Sea-Witch as powerful as he should be so affected by a mermaid as pathetic as her. But nonetheless, the sight of Evelyn alone was enough to calm centuries of Sea-witches screams, which could not be sent away by anything else.

Like other mermaids, she was foolish and weak, petty and vain, attention seeking and selfish, her very existence disgusted him. He both hated, and craved her.

Zale couldn't count the times he'd dreamt of squeezing the life from her scrawny neck, so her existence could no longer disturb his already unstable mind.

But instead, he just watched her. Princess Evelyn: his necessity, his shameful secret

Lynn finished her song and bowed. Her long ebony locks standing apart from her two auburn sisters. Her pearly cheeks flushed pink and icy blue eyes, the same hue as her tail, flashed happily.

'So beautiful', Zale thought, sinking to the cave floor, his heart beating a steady humming sound.

Before he knew what he was doing, his thumb was already tracing the image of her full bottom lip, with a tenderness that would have shamed his ancestors.

Then he awoke to what he was doing and flashed the image away in revulsion of himself.

~#~#~#~

Unlike her seven sisters Princess Evelyn had no interest in becoming queen.

While they concerned themselves with learning, primping and preparing for the day their father would choose one of them to take the throne Lynn just wanted an easy life doing the things she loved most, collecting things from the world above.

Lynn often stole out the palace. Hidden by only a small travelling cloak, no one was ever the wiser. Tradition forbid Merman from seeing the Princesses of the sea until they were married, to discourage any unwanted feelings or attachments. But Lynn's sisters and all the princesses from previous generations had always been born with long, flowing tresses of crimson and gold and tails of amber and emerald. So whenever she was spotted by people outside the palace, they saw her dark locks and blue tail and assumed Lynn was a strange, mutated bastard of some peasant.

'People only ever see what they want to see' Lynn thought sadly. But she wasn't one to dwell on sad things; to be happy was so much more wonderful. So she kept a brisk pace, to force any distractions from her mind as she headed out further into the outlands where her Human garden was hidden. Below her the valley lay exposed like an unrolled scrap of parchment.

The surrounding area was barren and cold. Usually, the sharks or poisonous white jellyfish would be enough to deter any Merfolk from coming here. But Lynn had realised long ago, that if she kept to herself so too did the jellyfish.

The sea-bed was grey, the water a sickly blue. Miniscule pieces of filth floated before her eyes, every thrust of her tail felt like she were forcing herself though a powerful current. Lynn couldn't imagine even the lowest creatures living here. He frozen temperature of the water alone made it inhospitable to any Merfolk.

The Outlands was also a place where Humans sailed their ships. And out of the every few hundred, safe, sailing ships, there would always be at least one ambitious fisherman. Lynn trembled at a repressed memory. Once, when she was a child, she had wondered to the borders of the Outlands. There, she was captured accidently in a fisherman's net and pulled to the deck.

There wasn't much she could remember. The air so dry and the sun too hot, gulls screeching, and figures towering.

She remembered the voices of men, but she had been too afraid to look. They argued, about what to do with her. Kill her? Put her back? One had even started ion supposed legends about how stewed Mermaid tail made you live forever. In the end, they decided to sell her, but somehow Lynn was rescued. The memory was so traumatising, Lynn had repressed it. So she wasn't sure exactly how she was rescued.

Her father had thought smugly the incident would be enough to scare Lynn off humans forever.

Instead, it only served to fascinate her more, because while the memory was terrible, Lynn was more furious with herself that she hadn't managed to get a proper look at a human in the flesh. Shed only ever seen them in books and her beloved statues, but it wasn't enough.

And the outlands were the only place Lynn could hide her Human treasures. In the Palace, they'd be destroyed. So for that reason, she was willing to take any risk. Even the sharks, eels and the chance of meeting the Fearsome Dragon of the Outlands couldn't frighten her away. Though the Dragon was said to guard something even more terrible, something so bad Lynn had never been allowed to know.

"Lynn!" a voice suddenly called. Lyn came to a sudden halt, her eyes wide.

"Ileana?" she gasped as her older sister flung herself into Lynn's arms and proceeded to choke the life out of her.

"Oh Lynn" Ileana cried "we've been all over the ocean looking for you, you have no idea…" the rest became blurred as Ileana continued her little rant with her face buried deep in the crook of Lynn's shoulder.

Lynn blinked, and tightened her arms. No, it wasn't a dream. She really was hugging her sister in the Outlands.

Why?

"Lea how, how did you find me? Or better yet, how did you even know where I was?" After nineteen years of sneaking out the palace, Lynn was very good at sneaking. What had she done wrong this time?

"Aislinn had a vision," Ileana sniffled ", she said we had to find you and bring you home no matter what or something terrible would happen."

Of course.

Aislinn was the third eldest of king Amon's daughters, and also the one known as the Oracle of the Sea. She glided towards them, her dark green eyes pressed with an unattractive frown, though it did not disturb her beauty as titan red hair floated lazily by her face.

There were very few things that could truly unnerve Evelyn, and one of those things was Aislinn. There was something about that knowing look in her eyes. Even when they were young and Lynn would hide things in the palace, Aislinn would always have this look about her that seemed to say 'I know what you did.'

But Aislinn typically never concerned herself with any of her sisters, preferring to keep to herself. Usually when she saw mishaps that would befall them, she simply wouldn't bother to stop it. And because of her great power, no one ever crossed her. Aislinn didn't even answer to Rue, their eldest sister.

"Evelyn" she said calmly "What are you doing so far in the outlands?"

Lynn's stomach sank to the deepest pit a stomach could possibly sink. This was it. Aislinn would report her to Father and Lynn's freedom would be gone forever. For a moment, she considered lying, but one glance into the jade eyes of her sister, told her it would be pointless.

"Humans" she whispered, "I collect human things, from the shipwrecks, and I hide them here."

Ileana gasped. Fraternising with humans was against the law.

Aislinn nodded, she'd already known "I see." Taking Lynn's arm she tugged "Come, we're returning to the palace. And once there, we'll discuss you little adventures later."

"Will you tell Father?" Lynn asked.

Aislinn flicked a cerise strand of hair from her eyes, "Perhaps, Alec should know at least. Come, we'll discuss it at home."

Lynn stared down at Aislinn's hand. If Alec was told, he would force the marriage quickly. He may not love her, but he was a firm believer of protocol. But Lynn wasn't ready to be married. She wanted her freedom.

She snatched her hand away "No" and was gone.

Lynn knew she was being foolish, eventually her sisters would catch her and they would, without a doubt, drag her back to the palace. But for a while Lynn wanted to pretend some more.

She skirted around a particularly robust cliff and saw the flash of something dark. There was someone there, a shadow down by the cliffs standing up right and waiting.

Lynn sighed mournfully. Of course Aislinn wouldn't come to the outlands unaccompanied by Guards and Hunters. She was a Queen candidate too.

"Evelyn" Ileana cried out. Lynn twitched to escape, but stopped. What was the point of running? Someone in front of her, someone behind her, Aislinn had brought a whole fleet. It was over, the game was won and she had lost.

Ileana gripped her wrists. Despite the fact that she was smaller than Lynn, she was still three years older and quite a bit stronger, Lynn let herself get caught.

"Alright Aislinn, you win, call of the guards, I'll go home" she said, head wilting.

But Aislinn's face had grown stark white as she stared straight ahead, her mouth slipping open in a silent gasp.

Lynn frowned, "Aislinn, what wrong?"

"I didn't call any guards" she whispered "That's not a Merman."

Im editing the chapters so the chapter lengths might change. Nothing new at the moment except some rewrites. I want to keep the word count in each chapter to 2000-2800