My claws clacked on the stone of the Stronghold, my dream seeming so, so real. As I passed the statues, I took the time to marvel at them all in turn. I walked through the door and was greeted by the sight of Glycon. He must be Dreamglancing me, I thought.
With a blinding flash of amethyst light, Saoni appeared. I felt overjoyed at seeing her. That joy was short-lived as she collapsed weakly, exposing bruises and cuts running along her otherwise flawless leg muscles. Glycon began talking, his voice filled with worry. "As you can see, we had a run in with an unexpected blizzard. She's in the emergency room in Icepeak right now. I really hope you're doing better than we are."
And I was. My task was to get a mermaid core, crush and drink it, and therefore be able to breathe underwater. I was then to find Miriap and her key, and then return to Stronghold to try it in the lock. I was asleep on the edge of Lake Meteor at the moment, eshausted after flying all the way from Stronghold to the market in Ferustyne to get a core from Junke's dad.
The other Representatives, apart from the Gang, Miriap and Klyo had stayed at Ritual, so Junke and Goizu's jobs were actually quite easy.
"You have the core?" Glycon continued. I held it up in front of him from under my feathers. "Good! You're going in tomorrow, I'd assume."
"Yes," I responded. "Talk to me again when you get time. My dreaming must come to a end now."
With this, I left Stronghold, my feet seeming to actually feel the cold stone. That was a side effect of Dreamglancing, everything seems more real than it did before, until you wake up. Then you forget the dream, but not the stuff the person told you. I watched as wisps of purple and black smoke blew past me, Saoni and Glycon's souls leaving the dream. I watched myself disappear into white smoke, headed away for Lake Meteor.
I woke up with a start. My tail curled around my legs, tickling the soft pads on the bottom of my feet. I was hoping and praying that Saoni would be alright, and even though I already thought about her a lot, I knew she'd be the only thing on my mind from now until I saw her next. I tried to push the thought that I might never see her again out of my head.
As I crushed up the core in my claws, I pondered how hard it would be. I could just dive down, get Miriap to swim with me to Ritual, regroup with the rest of the Gang, and take her key to Stronghold. Easy.
I took my water pouch from my satchel and filled it, sprinkling the flakes of delicate, enchanted shell into it. As I gulped it down, I looked into the glimmering lakes deep water. I saw mermaids swimming in the distance, swarming around the city gates and walls. The palace was truly gorgeous, opaque purple stone bricks making up the delicately designed walls. Glowing coral grew in every corner of the underwater city, lighting up places that couldn't be kissed by the early suns gentle rays.
As I felt the core's magic flowing through me, I braced myself to dive, hind legs preparing to push my entire bulk through off the edge, into the water, and all the way to the Mermaid capital. Glycon's message resonated through my mind. I still didn't know if Klyo had a key, even though it was pretty obvious he must. I was also concerned about them spending too much time in Icepeak. When I had last been to the Stronghold, the Tornado had been uncomfortably close, and if we waited too long it would devour the keyhole, and therefore the only way to save Fantasia.
But then something incredible happened. I remembered part of the dream, Saoni collapsing playing over in my mind. Tears brimmed my eyes as I lunged into the lake, thoughts of my friends struggles propelling me on.
My back legs tread the water easily, the strong lion part of me taking control of my body. As I landed on the castle floor, I looked around. Mermaids of all shapes and sizes were staring at me. The path that lead up to the palace was lined with pots with rainbow coral in them, the glowing plants casting a serene, colourful light on the path and my feathers.
The mermaids began to swim to one side, so I followed suit. I didn't know what was going on, so I just did what the mermaids were doing and hoped for the best.
A merman with a crown on his head and a trident in hand was leading a parade into the courtyard, it seemed, so I was extremely surprised when he stopped in front of me. "Arvid, the griffin representative. I am King Posideo. Miriap has made me completely aware of your situation." The king moved in closer to me, his brow furrowed in concern. "Miriap has found the key," he whispered. "It is made of gold, with a diamond at the base. You may take the key to the Stronghold, where the Startrail river doesn't lead."
I gulped. "Your highness, I'm afraid that may not be the key. All the Representatives have found keys, and we are trying to collect them to see which one fits in the keyhole."
Posideo nodded. "Very well, do you wish to speak with Miriap?" With that, he beckoned the mermaid to the front, her turquoise hair looking magical in the swirling water. Her purple tail was twitching nervously. She must have heard what I said. The king yelled a farewell to his subjects before leading me and Miriap into a conference room in the main wing of the palace.
As he left the room and shut the door behind him, Miriap swam on to the balcony. I followed her and saw the key on a chain around her neck. It was surely the most beautiful of the keys, the pale blue stone catching the light that the water filtered, shining little rainbows on to the balcony floor. Her eyes closed, their soft pinkness disappearing behind flawless skin.
Sighing, she said, "take the key. I can't go to Stronghold, then you must go in my place." She began to take the key from around her neck. My ears pricked up unexpectedly, sensing something in the air. "Miriap, get back!" The key was in her hand by now.
Two black tailed mermen swam past the balcony, one snatching the key. "Ah, Miriap, the beautiful representative. This is a lovely key, is it not?" I growled. "Oh, this must be Arvid! How are you, little one?"
I hated this. I was very young, and most of my people were a lot older than me. I stepped back, stirring up bioluminescent algae. My claws looked like glowing shards of crystal. Miriap snarled in annoyance. "Dririan. You are too old for this! I told you when I turned you down that I couldn't be with a thief. Could you respect me? Could you at least be a common part of society?"
Dririan squinted his eyes, a sickly sweet smile on his face. "My dear, you see, I can't get a living for you from nothing. You know as well as I do that I'm not educated. Now, I will take this key and sell it for enough to support a family for years!"
I roared, animal instinct taking me over. Dririan's face dropped, terror and fear paralysing him. "Give... me back... THE KEY!" I tackled him over the edge, showing my claws and talons as a warning. He didn't get the picture. "Little Arvid, you try too hard! There's no getting past me!" At this, I scratched him across the fins, red appearing on his dark, matte tail. He screeched for help, but his friend was already gone.
Posideo burst into the room, a battalion of armed soldiers following him. "Dririan! Drop the key!" The king was full of rage, the snarl on his face enough to make even the Dragon captain tremble. However, Dririan simply smiled evilly, sending shivers down my spine. "Okay," he said. "I'll drop it."
He let go of the key, and I heard my own hoarse voice screaming as it sunk into the water's depths. Dririan kept smiling as the guards took him by the elbows and began to lead him to the dungeon. King Posideo asked him if there was anything he wanted to say to Miriap first. He responded with a growl and a retort about how it was better no one have it than her. Miriap smiled with a true honey sweetness. "Well, Dririan," she said, "I suppose the worst will have to occur."
I felt the earth tremble beneath my feet and turned around as a shadow began looming over me. To my shock and terror, I saw a giant octopus, green and blue and orange, swimming up from the depths of Lake Meteor, key in his tentacle. "Thank you, Bierdi," Miriap said as she took the key from his long, extended arm.
Dririan roared in a rage. "No! I always hated you, you oaf of an octopus!" Miriap glared at him. "First you abandon him as a baby, then you try to marry the one who took care of him, then you try to steal from her and then you insult him!" She looked to Posideo. "I want to make sure that he can't escape, and if he ever does... give Bierdi a little snack."
Dririan's face went pale, and that was the last anybody ever saw of him.