Hey guys, long time no see :) This is just a quick note to say that no, this story is NOT on hiatus, I've just been really busy going back and editing it. The general concept is the same, but the chapters may be different. Hopefully you'll like it! :)
- Converse r life
It was one word from Attina's lips, a fin-jerk reaction, as she saw her baby sister stop at the doorway of the entrance hall, King Triton right behind her.
The merprincess looked her sister up and down for a few seconds, her mind reeling. Ariel looked…stunned. Shocked. Scared even. Everyone stood motionless in the grand entrance hall, staring at each other silently, before a single sob broke the dam.
"Ariel!" Arista's voice finally cut through the silence, her sobs nearly echoing in the room. She nearly crashed into the youngest princess because of the speed she'd been swimming at.
The name of their youngest sister spilled from all the merprincesses lips before they could stop it. They all swam towards their baby sister, all managing to hug her at the same time.
Andrina's bottom lip quivered while she grasped her youngest sister's hand. Arista was sobbing as she rested her head on Ariel's shoulder, while Aquata's own shoulders shook with the effort to hold back her own sobs of pure relief. Adella had her mouth open to speak, but nothing came out as she couldn't find the right words to explain this moment. Alana's eyes were red rimmed as she let her from her hand rest on Ariel's other shoulder. It was Attina, however, who had the best spot out all of them, because she had thrown her arms around her baby sister in a tight hug.
It was Triton's soft command that made his eldest look up automatically. Her green eyes roamed those of her father's, wondering what he had to say.
Triton looked tired, the young woman noted. He seemed happy that his daughter was safe, relieved even, but he looked…exhausted, and…and something else that she couldn't quite place.
Attina felt herself questioning her king, feeling so small compared to him. But she wouldn't let that show. She was the oldest, the heir to throne. She held it all together, even when she had a mixed emotions roiled up inside of her.
"Make sure your sisters get to sleep." Triton's answered quietly, making his oldest nod obediently. She would have done it even if her father hadn't told her too.
"It's late. I'm going to bed."
"Goodnight, Father." Attina whispered.
The rest of her sisters, upon hearing Attina's goodnight, quickly said their own to their father, but at no time did their eyes stray from the teenager they were all crowded around. They all waited for her to do the same as them, but as the seconds ticked by, it became increasingly uneasy.
At no point did Ariel utter a word.
"Goodnight, Ariel." Triton added in a gentle, kind, maybe even soothing voice to his youngest daughter.
Ariel's eyes flickered up to him, blinking once as if not understanding his words. Then her eyes flickered downwards at her fins once again, almost as if she was too ashamed at herself to look up to her father.
"Goodnight." Ariel mumbled inaudibly.
For a moment, all King Triton could do was just look at her, pity mixed with relief, mixed with woe and even a hint of anger in his expression, before it all melted away, and he shook his head.
"I'll see you all in the morning." Triton finally said, though his line of sight was directed towards his youngest, who was surrounded in a protective circle by her sisters. With a sigh, he swam off to his chambers to sleep a little.
It was silent for a moment, with Triton gone, and the merprincesses giving each other looks of concern over Ariel's head. The youngest princess still had her head down, not looking at anyone.
"Oh, Ariel." Attina whispered, breaking the silence as she hugged her sister tightly against her, never wanting to let go.
Three days. That was the last time she saw that head of bright hair swim easily through the palace, singing to herself and dancing like a carefree child. Who knew three days could be so long?
It occurred to the oldest merprincess that her youngest sister wasn't hugging her back. Ariel's arms hung limply by her sides, her eyes focused on the ground. But Ariel was a fool if she thought she could convince her oldest sister that nothing was wrong by just looking at the ground.
She was struggling not to cry, Attina realized, and felt an almost stabbing pain of guilt reach her heart. She should have known Ariel wasn't holding up all too well. Goodness only knew what she'd been through in the past three days.
"Girls, it's late. Let's at least go to a room so we don't wake anyone." Attina's voice finally said aloud, firmness in her tone that was not to be messed with.
As the oldest, she was always in charge. By now, her younger sisters simply obeyed her words, so used to it after such a long time. No one even bothered questioning what room Attina was talking about; they all knew that tonight, they'd congregate in their baby sister's room.
Slowly, sniffles and nods went around as the five sisters let go of their baby sister. Ariel was still a statue, staring down at her fins and trying hard to keep it all together.
"Ariel?" Adella asked softly, taking her sister's other hand in hers and looking at the girl with worry. Ariel did nothing but breathe raggedy and stare down at the floor.
That alone filled her sisters with concern. What had happened to the hyper young teenager they were so used to? Where had their baby sister been—or rather, seen, that was troubling her? Surely she couldn't have changed this much in three days. This had to be some type of joke, a prank, something other than what was really happening.
"Are you…alright?" Aquata's brave voice asked the question all six mermaids were wondering and worrying about.
Ariel said nothing; she didn't even nod or shake her head to signify how she felt. The five younger princesses exchanged wide-eyed looks to one another, unsure of what was happening, but knowing that their gut instincts told them that it was very wrong. One by one, their questioning eyes fell to Attina, each of them seeming to ask the same silent question: What do I do?
Attina took in a deep, calming breath. "Let's go to Ariel's room."
Releasing her baby sister from the tight hug she'd enveloped the girl in, Attina started to panic inwardly when she no longer felt herself connected to the teenager. So the oldest merprincess grasped the girl's forearm tightly with one hand, making sure she had a good hold on her. Immediately, her system calmed.
With lingering looks back towards the youngest in the bunch, each of the other girls slowly lead the way back to the youngest princess' room. No one spoke; instead, the only forms of communication between the young women were looks that had more volume to them than novels could ever hold.
Attina lagged behind the group, struggling to swim both her and Ariel along. Her sister, however, wasn't making this job easy for her at all. In a way though, Attina thanked Neptune that the other girls didn't see this. She wasn't sure they would be able to hold themselves together watching Ariel in this state. It was almost like the teen had no will left in her to swim, or smile, or…or do anything really.
When they finally entered the corridor where Ariel's room was located, Attina felt her sister suddenly stiffen, making the oldest merprincess feel as though she was dragging a ton of rocks. Before she could say this aloud though, Ariel ripped herself out of her oldest sister's grasp and swam faster than Attina had ever seen her go through the shell door of her room.
For a second, all six princesses stared at each other in disbelief and shock, before they were spurred into action. They bumped one another as they tried to get through the doorway all at once, and there were a few hisses of pain in the process when someone was accidentally knocked to the floor.
"Ow! Alana, that hurt!" Andrina's nasal voice complained while she struggled to get off of the ground.
"Don't get in my way next time." Alana's voice hissed back quietly, her tone sharp.
"I'll show you what will happen next—" Andrina was cut off by a reprimanding look from Attina. A look that the princess knew very well meant that it was time to stay quiet.
"She's hysterical." Adella's voice came out, forcing all of her sisters to follow her jutted chin the direction of Ariel.
Each one of them sucked in a breath, suddenly realizing that in their haste to get into Ariel's room, they had forgotten about the reason they were rushing here in the first place. Unknowing and unnerved by the past three days, every head turned to look at Attina, waiting for their marching orders to be issued.
However, Attina didn't know what to say.
She knew nothing more than her sisters did. And…truth be told…she was scared. But wanting to show her younger sisters that everything would be alright, she gathered up her courage.
Then she let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding in, before she swam to the girl's bed, where Ariel had collapsed in a fit of sobs.
Slowly, her sisters followed her lead. There were soft gasps of pain here and there as someone's elbow found another's side, but within moments the young women had made themselves comfortable.
The pecking order went as follows: Attina was sitting by the head of the bed by Ariel's right, Alana leaning back against one of the four posters the bed had on the opposite side, Arista was spread out length wise on the same side as her older sister, with Adella and Andrina squeezed together in the left corner at the tailend (fighting for the chance to rest one of their backs on one of the four posters the bed held), and Aquata had her tail pulled up to her chin in the right corner of the tailend of the bed.
Each of their pretty features were twisted with worry for their youngest sister. That coupled with the stress of the past days made each one of them seem much, much older than they truly were.
"Shh Ariel. It's alright…it's alright." Attina voice finally cut through the thick silence.
She was trying to be as soothing as possible, because she frankly hadn't a clue as to what else she could do. She sighed heavily as she watched Ariel's shoulders shake back and forth, her sobs muffled by the pillow she had buried her face in.
"Ohmygosh, look!" Aquata's voice suddenly cried out, horror filling every crevice of it "Something burned her back! Bad."
Wide-eyed, the other merprincesses looked at their sister's back, surprised to see that Aquata was indeed correct. There was a large red burn on Ariel's back. But there was something oddly familiar about it…
"That's the same type of burn scars Momma had on her hands!" Adella gasped, immediately looking at her two oldest sisters with an urging expression, as though willing them to remember.
"Oh!" Was all Alana managed to say, realization suddenly dawning on her.
Attina felt her face go pale as she too figured out where she'd seen such a burn before, and how the one on her baby sister's back must have happened.
"You know, none of us can read minds." Andrina grumbled, looking at both Arista and Aquata for support on this issue.
Both girls looked to each other, before shrugging, their gazes falling back on the burn on Ariel's back in consternation. The frown that had set on Arista's features, and the slight hurt in Aquata's eyes said it all: they wished they understood, so that they could be included in this too.
Attina gave a soft sigh.
Really only she, Alana, and Adella could remember their mother.
From Aquata down, the memory of the woman who had given them life were fragments of happy times, hazy memories of being tucked into bed, a voice warning for them not to stray, and then only what an imagination had been able to fill in through stories.
Though the four youngest princesses never said anything about it, Attina knew that they wished they didn't always have to be the odd girls out when something concerned their mother.
"Remember the story of when I was born?"
The three younger sisters nodded their heads, ignoring the soft sobs of their other sister for a moment as they focused on Attina.
"What does that have to do with the burn scars Momma had on her hands? Or the one on Ariel's back? This is all so confusing!" Arista's voice cried out, her eyes already starting to water with tears.
Attina held back her sigh this time. Arista was always the first one to resort to tears. The Crown Princess would really have to dumb down her explanation so that her sisters could actually understand it.
"Remember how Ursula usurped the throne and locked Father in the palace dungeons? And how the people of Atlantica decided to overthrow her, and the only way for them to win was for Momma to somehow seize the trident from its stand and get it to Dad? And even though she managed to get the trident out of its stand because she was pregnant with a child of royal Atlantican blood, her hands were still burned, due to the fact that she herself did not have royal blood?"
Aquata let her brows knit together in deeper confusion. "I'm not following, Attina."
"Think, Aquata." Adella answered, her tone urging. "Ariel has the same type of burn Momma had, and Momma got that burn from the trident."
"Are you saying that…" Andrina cut herself off, unable to finish that unimaginable thought.
"Someone burned her with the trident." Arista found herself saying, her ice blue eyes wide and hurt as she looked up at her sisters.
Each one of them looked away, the lump in their throats too thick for them to think of any other type of explanation. The only person (that they knew of) capable of handling the trident was their father. Surely he wouldn't have…hurt Ariel, just to bring her back. No, there had to be some sort of mistake here.
Ariel, who still had her head buried into her thick pillow, clutched at the fabric and kept sobbing, as though she hadn't even heard a word. This would make sense, considering her sobs were loud enough to drown out everything her sisters had said.
"Shh, it's alright, Ariel. You're alright now."
Attina's motherly voice again broke through the silence, trying to at least keep her youngest sister from going back to full blown hysterics.
She swallowed deeply, trying hard to resist the urge to press her baby sister to her in a deep hug and pretend that she wasn't hurting, that this was all a dream. Instead, she gently allowed her fingers to shift through the teen's mass of red hair, trying to stroke it, but only finding knots to be getting in the way.
"I've got burn cream." Alana finally offered, her voice quiet as she spoke to her older sister. Attina looked up, blinking as though she was startled at the sudden words.
"Why do you have…?" Adella's voice died out as she watched Alana simply raise an eyebrow at her. She sighed. "Right. Forget I asked."
"Go get it, Alana." Attina said, her fingers methodically trying to break through a bad knot. "At this point, I'm up for anything that would help her."
Alana nodded once in confirmation. "I'll be back in a second."
From her peripheral vision, Attina could see her sister quickly lift herself off of Ariel's bed. Still trying to untangle the unruly knots in Ariel's hair, the eldest merprincess was suddenly struck with an idea on how to assuage her sister's tears. It was the simplest thing.
"Alana, grab Ariel's brush while you're up. Please." Attina requested, in a voice that was tight with worry.
Alana, halfway across the room at this point, froze. The four other girls who currently had their wits about them did the same, all of their eyes turning towards a now softly humming Attina.
If one knew their oldest sister like they did, they would realize that for her to say 'please' meant a great deal. Not that Attina wasn't polite in front of company; it was just that, like any older sibling, she felt that being polite to her younger sisters was a gift they did not deserve. So for her to actually say such a word to them, in such a soft manner, without a twitch of an eye was almost…scary, in a way.
They knew she meant business.
"I'm on it." Alana answered back, swallowing due to her parched throat, but finding her mouth was just as dry as before.
As quickly as possible, the young woman swam out of her baby's sister's room, not stopping for even a moment. Thankfully, she'd moved her burn cream to her own room last week and hadn't had the chance to put it back with all her other things in the giant vanity room she shared with her sisters.
She easily swam through her own room and without a second thought, the merprincess grabbed the cream from its place on the side of her bed. Then she rushed back to Ariel's room, nearly pushing the shell door out of her way because she was in such a hurry to help.
Everyone's head, save Attina and Ariel's, lifted up when they heard her come in, but just as quickly the girls turned their attention back to their youngest sister. With a silent sigh as she could still hear the sobs from Ariel, Alana scanned the room with her eyes before spotting Ariel's hairbrush.
It hadn't been touched since she left three days prior, and as such it was still in its slightly skewed position on her small vanity, as though Ariel had just dropped it in a rush and expected to be back within a moment.
While most of the girls' things had long been moved to their bigger, nicer vanities that took up the entire room of the old conservatory, the bare essentials were still kept in their room. It was for comfort, in a sort of odd way none of them could understand.
Shaking those thoughts off, Alana grabbed the hairbrush that belonged to her youngest sister and headed back to Ariel's bed.
"Hold this." Alana ordered, handing the cream off to Arista as she sat back down and placed the brush beside her. From this spot, she had a good angle of Ariel's trident burn.
"Is it supposed to smell funny?" Arista wondered, having already undone the top of the container and sniffing at it with an odd expression.
Alana snatched the cream back from her hands, noticing the way the teenager was tilting it at such an angle that everything inside of it would spill out soon if she didn't take control.
"It's medicinal, not commercial, Arista. It can smell like the stables as long as it works." Aquata answered, rolling her eyes in the way that only older siblings could.
Arista stuck her tongue out at her sister, clearly trying to indicate that she didn't like being treated like a child. Aquata returned the gesture with a roll of her eyes, as though she was far too old to indulge is such childish nonsense.
Adella suddenly frowned. "It does work, doesn't it, Alana? Like it won't just make her back turn purple, or burn her even more, or—"
"Of course it works!" Alana bristled, gently starting to spread the cream across the large red mark across Ariel's back. "The healer made it for me after someone put fool's weed into my favorite lotion."
Andrina managed a small smile at the memory despite the circumstances at the moment. "I still say that was my finest prank, even if I did get caught."
Alana rolled her eyes. "Anyway, it heals the burn quickly. By tomorrow morning she'll probably just have a scar. And then I have a scar cream that can get rid of that…"
"One step at a time, Alana. We don't know if she'll still be here by morning time." Adella sighed, tucking a piece of dark hair behind her ear.
Before anyone could get a word in edgewise, Attina's head snapped up like lightning. All five heads turned to look at her in surprise, before each one of them quickly looked away in opposite directions. There was something dark, almost feral in their oldest sister's look that made them feel…scared.
"Do not," Attina's voice warned, low and threatening "even think about that. She will be here tomorrow; this is her home. Our home. She belongs here."
Green eyes fierce, the young woman let her words hang in the air, like a giant weight in the room.
"I-I…I belong w-with…Eric."
A hiccupping voice brokenly whispered those words aloud, the owner of said voice clutching tightly to Attina as a fresh wave of sobs overtook her once again.
All six heads of the older merprincesses snapped themselves in the direction of Ariel, before looking up at each other with fish-caught-in-a-net looks.
Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle seemed more confusing then ever.
When their father had destroyed her "collection" of human things (he had relayed the story to them as a sort of desperate attempt to see if they could have figured out where Ariel was by it), he had also destroyed a statue of a human man that Ariel had in her possession at the time.
While that shouldn't be too much of a standalone issue, the way that their father had chosen to gloss over that particular fact, barely mentioning it as he had told the story, suddenly seemed a lot more significant. Plus, hadn't Ariel been acting all lovesick before she'd disappeared?
Was there a link between this "Eric" that Ariel thought she belonged with, and the statue of a human man? Was there a link between that and Ariel's disappearance?
"Sit up, Ariel. You're hysterical." Attina's voice finally broke, though it was a tad bit icier than before.
The Crown Princess knew somewhere, deep in her heart, what Ariel was really saying and what all this had been about. Somehow she'd always known. But that didn't mean that it was any easier a pill to swallow, and it also did not mean that she would be accepting it, at least for right now.
Faux ignorance was always bliss, wasn't it?
"I…I…" Ariel's tearful voice responded, unable to form actual words.
Attina loosened the girl's grip on her orange tail and gently, with the help of her other sisters, lifted the girl into a sitting position. Ariel's head fell forward, her eyes trained on the sheets of her bed. Her sobs were starting to diminish, turning from heart-wrenching cries of pain to soft hiccups.
"Give me her brush, Alana." Attina's voice said aloud, quieter now with the edge less prevalent. But the way her stomach churned said otherwise about her overall mood, though she'd never lose her calm in front of her sisters.
"Here, take it." Alana answered, leaning forward to hand over the hairbrush. She hadn't noticed just how tightly she'd been clutching at it with her left hand.
The second-oldest merprincess spun the top back onto the burn cream, long since finished with applying it to the mark on Ariel's back. It still made her sick to even look at it. So she forced herself to pay attention to what her older sister would do, awaiting whatever orders she may soon have.
"Ariel, you need to calm down."
Attina stressed the last two words, her voice soft but worried as she noticed her baby sister's shoulders start to go up and down at a rapid pace again. At this rate she would be more likely to hurt herself further, something that no one would want.
"Take deep breaths!" Arista offered eagerly, leaning forward to grab Ariel's limp hands in her own.
"In practice, Coach says in through your nose, out through your mouth." Aquata said, less eager than her sister, but still using a helpful tone all the same.
"I'm confused. What goes in your nose and comes out of your mouth?" Andrina wondered, her voice forcefully lighthearted.
Usually such a statement would create a playful argument between her and Aquata, but tonight, everyone just gave a rather feeble chuckle at her attempt.
Attina shook her head, tucking a stray piece of auburn hair behind her ear before gathering the mass of red hair that Ariel had. With an ease benefitting years of doing this, the oldest merprincess started to brush through the girl's hair. She hummed an old lullaby aloud, her favorite among the ones her mother used to sing to her in the nursery.
Ariel gave a slight jerk at the way the brush went over a bad knot, but instead of the whine that was usually inevitable coming from her, the teenager simply sniffled. A hiccup left her lips, but nothing more.
At this, everyone sighed.
"Come on, Ariel, talk." Adella started to plead. "You know you can tell us anything." There was desperation in her tone now; this was the point where Adella had long thrown out her boy-craziness and instead replaced it with an overwhelming urge to help her sister.
"This isn't like you, baby sister." Alana whispered, her hand gently cradling her sister's face.
It was an affectionate term they all used around Ariel, calling her their baby sister because, well, she was. She'd always been the baby; she always would be the baby…
…she no longer wanted to be the baby.
That just seemed to throw Ariel off the edge altogether. Suddenly she was ripping her hands out of Arista's, breaking away from Alana's soft touch, and pushing away Attina and that dratted brush.
And just as the shock was still setting in for her older sisters, Ariel lifted her head for the first time all night, her bottom lip quivering as she spoke.
"I-I'm not…I'm not a baby!"
Her voice may have been nothing more than a broken whisper, but the way she said those words, so vehemently opposed to her sisters belief caught everyone's attention.
All six of the older merprincesses looked around, their gazes wide-eyed with surprise. Even Andrina's mouth hung low, her eyes nearly bulging in astonishment. Ariel had never had a problem with being the baby of the family. Never.
"Of course you're not a baby, Ariel." Alana recovered first, using her most soothing voice. "But, I mean, you're only sixteen. You're still technically a child…"
Only because she was over twenty years of age could Alana say this and firmly believe in it too. Of course, she remembered being Ariel's age and thinking that she was all grown up, but now, five years later, she could wholeheartedly dismiss Ariel's feelings as normal teenage angst.
"E-Eric doesn't think so."
Ariel's broken voice again whispered, her blue eyes haunted but still holding Alana's violet ones in an intense stare. And then, the younger merprincess broke off this staredown, her head falling down once again as a soft whimper left her.
"I mean…h-he didn't think so."
"Wait, Ariel, who's Eric?" Andrina finally asked, pushing her now crowding sisters away from her youngest sister so that she could squeeze in. "What happened?"
And not for the first time in her life, Ariel looked up and saw the faces of each of her sisters surrounding her.
Attina's expression looked guarded, as though she knew something that she wouldn't say aloud. Both Alana and Adella looked worried, although Adella slightly more so, while Alana was leaning more towards the wary side. Aquata and Arista kept exchanging glances, their faces crumpled in confusion. Only Andrina looked curious out of all of them, her green eyes shining with that glow she always got when there was a mystery around.
Ariel almost felt sick to her stomach.
How could she explain to her six wonderful sisters how she could have killed them because of her stupid idea of trusting the sea witch?
How could she tell these girls, the ones who had been her playmates, her best friends, her confiders, that the kingdom that had made them princesses could have been demolished this night?
How could she explain to them that their father traded his life for hers, an exchange that would have only allowed her to live an hour more had Eric not destroyed the sea witch?
How could she tell Attina, her stand in mother, the person who had held her hand and lead her to Tide School her that first day of class, that she was in love with a human and she hadn't a clue if he was alive or not at this point?
Ariel looked at her sisters again, her bottom lip quivering faster now as she tried hard not to cry. She was ashamed, scared, guilty, angry, tired, confused, heartbroken, crestfallen, and fearful to look at any of them in the eye.
"Y-You're all so…so good to me." The youngest of the bunch whispered, her head falling once again in defeat. "I…I don't d-deserve to be your sister. Or b-be…a princess." Pausing, mostly to catch her hitching breath, Ariel tried to swallow the sob that was rising in her chest.
"I'm…I'm so sorry."
This proved to be enough for Attina. The oldest merprincess grabbed Ariel's hands tightly in her own, and when her youngest sister looked up at her in confusion, the young woman spoke in a tone that sounded like nails scratching on something unpleasant.
Attina wasn't mad, per say. It was just that the awful feeling she'd had earlier, the one had given her good suspicions on where Ariel had been and what had happened was coming back tenfold. The Crown Princess had a horrid inkling that she was right, and that terrified her to no degree.
For the very first time in her life, Attina was hoping she was wrong.
"Attina, your cutting circulation off from her hands!" Aquata's panicked voice cried out, quickly giving her oldest sister a shove that made the young woman release Ariel's hands.
Attina blinked, her mouth going dry as she looked down at her fingers. They were just starting to regain their own color again; that's how hard she'd been gripping at Ariel. The oldest merprincess felt her shoulders sag as a defeated sigh came from her mouth. She dared not look at her younger sisters, only focusing on Ariel at this point.
"Please, Ariel. Tell us." And then, in an even softer voice, she spoke again. "Tell me."
No one argued Attina's words. Even though they were all extraordinarily close to one another, it was a sort of silent agreement that they each had one sister whom they were even closer to. And when their mother had passed, and their father had not been in a right state of mind, it had fallen to Attina to raise Ariel from near nursery. So the youngest and the oldest had always had a sort of bond with one another, something that no one ever had a contention with.
Through her hiccups and swollen eyes, Ariel noticed a shimmer over Attina's eyes. They were watering with the tears the oldest merprincess would never cry in front of her. Attina, the rock of the family, the one who was the most stable out of all of them in her emotions suddenly looked anything but.
It was at that moment that Ariel realized that her oldest sister already knew; she was just hoping that she was wrong.
That thought suddenly spurned something akin to a bright fire inside of Ariel. She loved Eric. Whether he was still…no, she couldn't think of that, but in case it was true, it didn't matter. The past three days with him had been the most beautiful ones of her short life, and she did not regret becoming a human just to be with him.
He didn't judge her decisions. He simply jumped in and tried to help her through the aftermath of them. He did it because he loved her. And it was because of these thoughts that the merprincess quickly rubbed away the tears left in her eyes and she straightened up, her head lifting high.
She would not be ashamed of becoming human, not especially for doing so because of Eric. Attina could hope all she wanted, but that would never change a single thing. Ariel's heart had been captured, and be it human or merman, bygone it, she would make it work.
"I r-rescued a human—Eric—from d-drowning. A-And after Daddy destroyed my c-collection…I went to the S-sea Witch and she turned me into a h-human for three days."
There were collective gasps among her sisters at her extremely simplistic telling of what happened. But out of all of them, Ariel held fast to Attina's horrified gaze, her stomach churning at what she knew she would have to say to her eldest sister's question.
It was the same question her father had asked her earlier, after Eric had rammed that ship through Ursula and she had been chaotically searching for any signs of her love.
"B-because I love him."
Her answer was the only explanation she could offer, the only thing that made sense in all this. Well, at least it made sense to her. To her father, if anything, it just seemed to make his emotions swim wild, and he'd simply said they'd talk about it later, while half dragging her back to the palace. To her sisters…well, if their ranging expressions had anything to say about it, it would be the same response as her father.
"How do you know that…you love him?" Aquata's soft voice questioned, her usually tougher demeanor breaking apart.
Ariel gave a light shrug. "I j-just…do. I can feel i-it…in my heart."
There was a silence among the seven sisters, an odd thing for them since they usually had so much to speak about. No one seemed capable of saying what they wanted to say, or they just didn't know how to say it. The silence felt like a weight, a few eyes darting around, but for the most part, everyone stayed still and tried to shift through their emotions. It was a lot to take in all at once.
And then, just when Ariel was about to say something — she didn't know what she would have said, only that she would have said anything to dispel this silence — Arista spoke up.
"Does he make you happy, Ariel?" Arista's voice softly questioned, her hand reaching out to grasp that of her youngest sister.
Ariel looked up at her older sister, and upon seeing the compassionate look on her features, felt her bottom lip tremble as she smiled.
"Yes." Ariel whispered, clutching at Arista's hands tighter than ever before. "Oh, yes. Like you wouldn't b-believe."
"And you feel…safe, with him, up there?" Aquata asked, biting her bottom lip. Her eyes were worried, and her voice hesitant, but when Ariel looked at her, she felt it all melt away.
"As safe as I feel here." Ariel nodded furiously to get her point across. "But, I guess th-that goes without saying because…" Here the merprincess bit her lip, a mischievous smile playing the corners of her mouth. "He's a prince."
A ten-second shocked silence once again fell over the merprincesses, but this time, it was a certain seventeen year old princess who broke it.
"He's a prince?!" Andrina's voice shrieked aloud, her body coming from nowhere and tackling Ariel back to the pillows of her bed.
Her arms were wrapped tightly around her sister's neck, and within moments giggles from the four youngest could be heard. The sound was a refreshing change from the sobs that had once lighted the room.
"I was worrying for three days straight, and meanwhile you were gallivanting with a prince?!" Andrina shrieked again, half out of breath from her laughter. "You are so dead!"
"It's not my f-fault!" Ariel laughed as well, squirming to be released from her sister's tight grip. "Andrina, this i-isn't a fair fight! I'm younger than you!"
Andrina laughed even harder, although she did loosen her grip considerably. "You're not going anywhere until I get full details. What is this Eric like?"
"Is he cute?" Arista's voice chimed in, managing to make her way to Ariel and settle herself onto her sister's pillow.
"Does he have a brother who'd be into mermaids?" Aquata's own voice fell through as she followed Arista's lead and landed onto Ariel's pillow with a soft thump.
"Aquata, aren't you dating Gerolt?" Andrina wondered aloud wickedly, earning her a light shove from her older sister.
"Is he fluffy?" Arista asked again, giggling lightly and seemingly ignoring her sister's conversation.
"We are not dating." Aquata clarified, although her voice faltered slightly on the 'not'.
"Is he as sweet as sea-sponge swirl?"
"Could've fooled me." Andrina snorted, before turning to her younger sister, who was still trying to catch her breath in between peals of laughter. "Right, Ariel?"
"Is he a whole human or half a human?"
"Most definitely!" Ariel agreed, earning a celebratory 'yes!' from Andrina. "A week ago I saw them—!"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Alana's voice suddenly cut through, her sharp tone immediately making the four youngest who were lying squished together on Ariel's bed look up at her in confusion. "Have you all gone insane?"
Arista, always the first to recover and speak up, tilted her head to the side. "What do you mean?"
"The four of you! You're acting as though this is all…normal." Alana's disgusted voice put the four youngest at an uneasy state.
All of them blinked in confusion as they looked up at their three oldest sisters, who until this point had been oddly quiet. Somehow in their giggles, they had forgotten that the three oldest girls were not among their little group.
"What's not normal? Aquata dating Gerolt?" Even Andrina's light joke didn't seem to put the older girls out of their mood, although it did earn her another shove from Aquata.
"No." Adella's voice, usually so full of sighs and dramatic tones was shockingly harsh at this point. "Ariel and…and…one of those humans."
"Adella—" Arista tried, sitting up and placing a gentle hand on her sister's tail. Her older sister, however, backed away from her offered contact as though it was poisonous.
"No, don't you try to make it seem like this is no big deal." Adella answered, nearly growling. "Do the four of you not remember that we just spent ten years wishing for better times because of them?"
"But that has nothing to do with Eric!" Ariel found herself crying out, sitting up as well. She stared down Adella, a fire coming into her eyes. "You can't judge all humans just on actions of some bad ones!"
Ariel's logic seemed to cast some doubt over her sisters. Or at the very least it had made them quiet. Both Adella and Alana faltered, their mouths opening and closing in an attempt to say something that would not come out. And just when Ariel felt as though she had the upper-hand in this battle, she was quickly struck down again.
But this time, it was much, much worse.
"Actions?" Attina questioned quietly, having been uncharacteristically silent throughout all of this mess. "You call Momma's death just an action of some bad humans?"
The mention of their mother put all the mermaids at unease, none of them at the point where talking about the woman who had given them life was comfortable. It had become better in the year since their father had reinstated music, but it still wasn't their absolute favorite topic to converse about.
"Attina…that's not what I meant." Ariel found herself whispering, her hands shaking slightly in her lap. This had gone from very good to very bad in just milliseconds.
"But that's what you said." Attina interjected, her voice growing icy now. "You said that it was just an action. So I suppose your mother being killed is just passing thing that you can forget. And then, while you're at it, you can turn your back on everything and everyone!"
The sharp words, flung outwards like a sword being twisted into a deep wound cut more deeply than Ariel would show. Although for the most part all her sisters flinched at Attina's spiteful words, none of them could understand the pain that it caused in their baby sister. Even she couldn't understand it; she could only feel it.
"How can she turn her back and forget it, Attina, when she can't even remember it?"
Andrina, the very last of her sisters to sit up, sighed deeply as she spoke up in Ariel's defense. Attina's head whipped in her direction with such glare that, had Andrina not been looking down at her fins, she would have had to wince.
"This doesn't involve you, Andrina. It's about Ariel. Shut. Up." Now the real anger was starting to seep into Attina's voice, one that, if left out too long, could do some real damage.
Unfortunately for her, her younger sisters were extremely tough.
"Your right; this is about Ariel." Aquata's acknowledged, before her eyes opened up in a fierce look. "But because Ariel is our sister, it also involves us."
Here Aquata paused, trying to find her courage to say what last she had to say.
"Momma always said that true love is a blind affair of the heart. So then at the very least we have to support Ariel's decision to be happy with the person she loves, no matter if he's a merman or a…human."
Those were good words, coming from the girl who had vomited the last time her teacher made her present a project to the class. Her voice might have faltered slightly on the 'human', but for the most part, she was able to keep her voice level. It was a satisfying, if not surprising, outcome.
"Support? You want me to support my sister breaking the law, turning her back on all of us for some damn creature, and basically being a traitor to her kingdom and Mother?"
Attina's harsh words, almost too cruel, widened the eyes of all her sisters. Their oldest sister never swore. Their oldest sister never said such vile things. Their oldest sister never called one of them a traitor to their Mother. It was…it was simply undone!
"Attina," Arista's said softly, the only one of her sisters that could never stay in a silence for long. "Don't you think your being just a teensy weensy bit…brutal?"
"Brutal?" Attina wondered aloud, though her bitter voice seeped with venom. "Do you want to know what's brutal, Arista? Your idiotic sisters betraying the memory of their Mother in seconds, just because they want Ariel to feel 'supported in her decisions'. By allowing this, you killed Momma again!"
Arista broke down in tears. Aquata and Andrina looked away, each of them fighting back their own emotions of anguish. They could hardly remember their mother, and now, they were being accused of having killed her. The worst part was the guilt Attina's words instilled in them. Was she right about being there for their youngest sister's dreams was a travesty against the memory of their beloved Momma?
"That's a bit far, don't you think?" Alana muttered out of the side of her mouth, her comment most clearly directed towards her oldest sister.
Attina glared at her with such fierceness that the young woman was forced to look away. Being the two oldest, they'd always been able to be up-front and completely honest with one another. But now it seemed that Attina wanted anything but Alana's two-bit commentary on how hurtful her words were. The Crown Princess reared up to speak again, her nostrils flaring in anger as she turned towards her younger sister.
"Stop!" Ariel finally cried out, her voice broken and terrified. All eyes turned to the teenager, who's blue orbs were filled with tears once again. "Please, don't fight because of me." Now the youngest princess looked up at her oldest sister, her face the very picture of anxious.
"I'm so sorry for making you worry, for breaking the law, for hurting you, for making you all fight over me and everything else." Ariel paused, just for a brief second to catch her breath, before sucking everything she had in and letting a determined glow come across her features
"I…I belong as a human, though. I love Eric, with all my heart. I am not going to be sorry that I did, what I had to do so that I could live my dreams. And you are just going to have to deal with that."
Every merprincess felt themselves blink and straighten up, their jaws hanging low in the process. Ariel had never spoken to them like that. She'd always been the baby, the dreamer, the tag-along-tattle-tail little sister. To see her, so serious, so…so…so womanly, well, it shocked them. And her words, so sure of themselves, added to that effect completely.
Even Attina, whom Ariel had steadied her gaze upon the entire time, felt rattled by her sister's words. She was a Crown Princess, and not to mention the oldest of her sisters. She demanded respect with just her presence. No one ever spoke out to her as such and told her she had to 'just deal' with things. Although Ariel had always been one of the most outspoken ones in the bunch, she'd understood that her most senior sister overruled her on both authority and maturity.
"I love you, Ariel." Adella's voice stated, soft, although the edge from earlier was still prevalent within it. "But I just can't love this part of you. I know you don't remember Momma, but I do…and I just can't go through all that again. I just…I can't."
With that, Adella buried her face in her hands and swam out of her sister's room. She only left a single sob in her wake.
Ariel's sucked in a deep breath, but she kept her head high like a princess and refused to cry. She would not allow this to be her downfall. She knew where she stood, and she would not let anyone try to convince her that this was all so bad.
"I think I need the night to think." Aquata mumbled, her head turning away in shame.
No matter her defense from earlier, her oldest sister's words had struck a chord within the young woman, a chord that left her rattled and unwanting to continue this discussion.
"Wait for me!" Arista called out to Aquata, still sniffling and wiping her eyes with her hands
. She didn't look back to see Ariel's face, knowing that if she did, for sure she'd burst into tears again for doing this. But like Aquata, she needed time to think, to recuperate, to form a strategy of what to say and what to do.
Even though she was always the slowest when it came to picking up on things, she was also the most loyal out of all her sisters, and she knew that it was unfair to attach to Ariel and say how much she approved of all this when she wasn't sure that was how she truly felt.
Both Aquata and Arista swam out of the room, their leaving being marked by the soft closing of the shell door. Now only Alana, Attina, and Andrina remained, each of them looking at one another, then looking at their fins, and trying to see who would say what first.
Throughout it all, Ariel let her eyes become guarded, and though her bottom lip had quivered slightly, she still did not cry.
"I'm going to be a mess tomorrow if I don't get to sleep soon."
Alana finally mumbled, unable to come up with any other excuse. Then, after noticing the burn cream still on the bed as she lifted herself up to go, the merprincess stopped for a moment, sighing before she shook her head.
Easily, she scooped up the container. After a slight moment of hesitation, she placed it onto the Ariel's nightstand. All the while, she did not look at her sister, for fear her heart would break from her own words of hurt, as well as those coming from the family baby.
"If your burn starts to sting, lightly put some more cream on it, okay?"
With that, Alana turned to go. And the door opened so that she could leave, she realized that though Ariel had told them what had happened in the past three days, she'd never mentioned how she got that trident burn. The thought of it almost made Alana laugh.
"Get some rest, alright Ariel? We'll talk more in the mornin'." With a light shrug, as though none of this was a big deal, Andrina swam off.
She was never one for a big show, but then, knowing the girl well, Ariel understood that had Andrina not been upset by all this, she would have made some sort of joke before leaving. Or a sarcastic remark. Either way, she would have had the last word somehow.
Now it was down to two. From seven girls in room one room, to just two. The oldest at twenty two years of age, and the youngest, at only sixteen. Such an odd gap in years, such a difference between the two young women who stared at one another.
But Ariel's eyes were no longer guarded now. No, this was Attina, the one who she'd always been able to talk to. Attina had always been her sense of stableness in her life. Attina had always been there, even through the bad times. And now…now Attina held the power that could help re-fix Ariel's breaking heart.
So there was a sort of desperation in Ariel's eyes, one that spoke of the nights she had crawled into her older sister's bed looking for comfort. Then, because she could not remember it herself, she would whisper for Attina to sing that old song, the one that their parents had often remarked was there's. As she'd drift into the land of Nod, she'd hear the softly sung words of waves rolling high and low.
That's what her eyes begged for. That's not what she got.
"I hate you."
As Attina reached the door of the room, the sounds of her baby sister's heart-wrenching sobs crushed her soul.