From the lowliest of sea urchins to the most powerful of witches, everything under the sea is born and must die before it can be born again.
In between birth and death, each creature lives with at least a drop of magic in their veins. This magic connects one being to another, joining two halves of a whole—a soulmate is what the merfolk call it. A creature could live for centuries, never having found their other half, but when they have joined it makes each more powerful for the connection. Should they lose that other half, the magic in their veins can sour and twist into something that can only be described as dark.
No creature is born dark; they have darkness thrust upon them. Such is the case for the infamous sea witch. Her name—lost long ago to the vagueness and obscurity of being labeled a villain—but for our purposes, we will call her Irsa.
* * *
Born to a doting mother and a frequently absent father, the gray-haired child arrived as most merbabes do in a flurry of bubbles and wailing. Her father—a merchant named Calix of some small fortune—was not so mysteriously absent on the day of her birth.
“Where do you suppose he is?” Irsa’s grandmother—a graying, bent battle-ax of a merwoman named Diantha—growled, glancing out the window at the darkening ocean once more.
“He’s busy, Mother, don’t you fret. We got through just fine, didn’t we little Irsa?” Hali asked, bending her head to brush a kiss to the child’s head. Innocent black eyes peered up at her from her arms, the child making a soft, satisfied noise at the attention.
“Irsa? Tck,” Diantha muttered in disgust. When Hali paid her no mind, the old woman continued, “Couldn’t you have chosen something more normal? I thought you would name your firstborn after your father—Poseidon rest his soul—Dorian.”
“No,” Hali responded primly, sinking back further into the soft bed of kelp beneath her. Her fingers brushed along the delicate amethyst scales of the baby’s little tail. Irsa murmured affectionately up at her mother before promptly drifting off to sleep in her arms.
“What an odd-looking child,” Hali heard her mother mutter before she twirled to watch for Calix, again.
* * *
Hali’s nearest and dearest friend Evadne gave birth to a fire-haired little girl whom she named Aislin, not but a fortnight later.
Hali laid Irsa next to the bright-haired baby in the kelp lined crib and laughed softly. “How strange they look,” she murmured mostly to herself.
“Hm?” Evadne asked. She swam over to peer at the infants lying side by side in the crib.
Hali looked up, shaking her head ruefully. “I was just thinking—they seem to complement each other so nicely.”
Indeed, the pair was quite the sight laying side by side as they were. Aislin’s shimmering jade tail flapped, and the baby began to fuss. Then Irsa’s amethyst tail reached out to press one gauzy fin to the other child’s, and her chubby hand wrapped around Aislin’s, and like that the two merbabes were silent once more.
“They will be the best of friends,” Evadne announced with pleasure.
“Yes, they shall,” Hali agreed, hugging the other woman tightly and laughing with her.
* * *
And they were the very best friends the tiny village of Tjena ever saw. From that moment onward, Aislin and Irsa were inseparable.
“The first one to the bookshop gets to pick the story,” Aislin shouted over her shoulder with a giggle as she raced down the street, her shimmering tail whipping along behind her creating a stream of angry bubbles.
“That’s not fair! You got a head start!” Irsa shrieked back, but she was laughing. She squeezed her dark eyes shut, the water rushing through her hair. In her hurry to keep up with Aislin, she bumped a merman with his arms full with baskets of crabs, clicking their claws together in agitation.
“Hey! Look where you’re going, little girl!” The blond hunter growled, throwing up a fist to shake it at her—nearly dumping his catch to the sand.
Irsa whipped around him with some trouble, still laughing. “Sorry!” She called over her shoulder before turning back to continue her mad dash to beat Aislin to the bookshop.
“I win,” Her freckled friend declared triumphantly, panting hard from their race. “Which means we’re reading a princess story!”
Irsa rolled her eyes scoffing. “You always want to read about princesses. They’re so boring.” She complained. “Can’t we read about something exciting for once? Like pirates!”
Aislin shrugged, her face still lit with a broad smile that made her green eyes shine. “Maybe next week. Come on, Irsa, don’t be a guppy about it.” The little girl spun, her long red hair sweeping out around her, and then headed into the shop without another word.
“I’m not a guppy,” Irsa muttered irritably.
An hour later found the two little girls laid out on the soft sand of the small shop, a book of fairytales open before them. Irsa yawned in boredom, as Aislin read aloud. “And then he went down on bent fin and proposed. And they lived happily ever after,” Aislin exhaled dreamily. “Isn’t that romantic?”
“Yeah, sure, romantic,” Irsa grumbled, rolling over onto her back to stare up at the carved coral ceiling.
Her friend glanced at her, a frown tugging down the corners of her lips. “What’s the matter?” When Irsa didn’t answer, Aislin gave her a soft nudge with her fin. “This isn’t about the trials, is it?”
Irsa shrugged, not wanting to voice her concerns. She felt silly for being so worried. It was inevitable, and beyond her control. They would be tried, and then their lives would be decided for them. That was the end of that.
“Irsa—talk to me,” Aislin insisted softly, unable to stand the worried expression that creased her friend’s brow. She reached over with her fingers to smooth the wrinkle in Irsa’s forehead.
The other girl didn’t it away, but she didn’t meet Aislin’s eyes either. “It’s just…” Her words drifted off for a moment in embarrassment. “What if I don’t have any magic at all? What if I’m to be a-a-a sand cleaner?” She stuttered the words in mortification. “Princesses don’t talk to sand cleaners.” A bark of laughter left Aislin, drawing Irsa’s dark eyes to her. “What?”
“You’re much too smart to be a sand cleaner,” Aislin said between chortles. “If anyone is destined to scavenge the sand for land debris, it’s me. Stop being silly.”
Irsa huffed, an irritated bubble floating up above her. “You and I both know it’s not about smarts! It’s how much magic you have. And if I have none, they’ll apprentice me to someone boring.”
The fire-haired mergirl’s giggles died down, and she shook her head. “Even if they do, you’ll think your way out of it.” She tapped Irsa’s forehead gently, grinning down at her. “Trust me, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Then she took one of Irsa’s hands in hers and gave it a firm squeeze. The simple gesture soothed Irsa’s worries, and in a moment the pair were back to normal. All thoughts of the trials wiped away by childish chatter of princes and far-off waters.