“What if they find out we’re mermaids? My brother said that they would torture us and never let us return to the water.” Imalia’s voice shook slightly as she spoke.
“That’s ridiculous,” I scoffed, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt. “How would they know? As long as they don’t see us getting in or out we’ll be fine.”
My friends contemplated this in silence as we sped through the dark ocean waters.
My heart hammered against my ribs as we reached the shallows and began to pull ourselves along the bottom, heads above the waves while our arms worked against the pull of the undertow.
We dragged our bodies onto the still warm sand and let the sea breeze work its magic on our fins. Scales smoothed and separated, fins morphed into feet. My friends watched the transformation with bright eyes. In the past only a trusted few were allowed on land at night for special assignments. Since the arrival of the land dwellers, wandering on the surface had been strictly prohibited.
“Your hair, it’s different,” Leilani said, the first to recover from the shock of the change.
I nodded, the movement feeling exaggerated without the resistance of the water which usually surrounded me.
Imalia and Taya looked up, then ran pale fingers along water-laden locks which did seem to shine in the moonlight, but no longer glowed.
Imalia inhaled through her nose as she gazed in wonder at our surroundings.
“What is that?” She asked, inhaling again.
“The surface is full of strange smells,” I replied.
Taya and Leilani inhaled as well, and then smiled.
A smile spread across my face as I watched them. I had been breaking the rules for so long that I’d forgotten what it was like my first time on land.
“Let’s go now,” I said, slipping the chain over my head. The heavy key almost reached my navel. It was cold against my bare skin. “We must hurry, many of the land dwellers rise before the sun.”
All three nodded and rose to their feet, looking awkward and giggling as they clung to each other for balance. I led the way up the beach toward the looming walls of the castle.
Most of the entrances were guarded, but I had discovered a small opening in the base of one tower which stood closest to the cliff facing the sea. We made our way through the low brush and around to the cliff side.
I motioned for my friends to wait while I checked inside. I squirmed through the opening and into the dark base of the tower. A dancing light was suspended high on one wall, allowing me to see a staircase leading up and away to my left. Ahead was the door with an empty hook in the wall where my key had hung the night before.
Reaching through the hole in the wall I gave the signal for my friends to follow.
Leilani appeared first, followed by Imalia, and finally Taya.
Their eyes were immediately drawn to the shifting light on the wall.
“They call it fire,” I whispered.
Three heads nodded slowly and then turned toward the door.
“Is that it?” Leilani asked.
I nodded and we moved forward eagerly.
After slipping the chain over my head I inserted the key into the opening on the door. My wrist turned, the key moving with it, and I heard a soft click.
Leilani reached out and pushed the handle, revealing a room even darker than the one in which we stood.
“We need that light.” Imalia said, then moved to retrieve the fire from the wall.
“Be careful,” I whispered. “It can burn you.”
Imalia gripped the brand as far from the flame as she could and slipped the torch from its sconce. She turned with a triumphant grin.
We parted as she reached us, allowing her to enter first and light the way. Leilani and Taya filed in behind. I waited until they’d passed then carefully pulled the door so that it was almost closed behind us but not latched. The fear of being discovered battled with anxiety about being locked inside.
All other thoughts fled my mind as I turned to see what lay behind the door.