Alone in the hull of the ship, Nayidia watched the circling sharks overhead. They were strange creatures, sharks. So terrible in appearance, so menacing in their movements; but get to know a shark, and most of the species were all heart and very little cunning. Like the hornshark that had tucked itself into the recesses of a disused cannon sticking out of the last remaining gunwale. Its skeletal structure gave it a most sinister appearance. Nayidia swam to the cannon and gently coaxed the animal out of its nest. Humans were scared of all seakind except the ones that looked more scared of them.
"Naturally, they would think that a little thing like you would love nothing more than to tear into their soft pink flesh," she murmured, cradling the shark in her arm. She knew the truth: that the lazy, docile thing would rather snap at the tiny, soft-bodied organisms that happened to cross its path. He wasn’t even big enough to cause lasting harm to a human—but the nature of its appearance frightened the foolish creatures.
She stroked its dorsal fin as it lay quietly. There wasn't even a thrash of alarm as the mermaid suddenly gripped its tail with the hand beneath and ripped off its fin with her other hand. The spinal cord snapped, and the shark died instantly. Nayidia dug into its carcass with long, practiced fingers until she found the organ she sought. The remains she hurled into the open water, where a passing reef shark swallowed its kin.
Diving down into the lowest hull in the valley, Nayidia dropped the shark's liver into the cauldron she kept there. A keen light sparked in her icy blue eyes as she swam among the bottles and jars that looked to be discarded by the long-dead humans—as she had intended all along. The sea-witch poured the squid-ink into the cauldron and uncapped the hot spring underneath. The scalding water surrounded the cauldron in a bubble of near-vapor. It was good to be back.
"The little mermaid wants to be human to prove something?" She sneered to herself as she cast spices and spells into the cloud of underwater steam. "The brave little princess wants to stop a big, awful war?" Nayidia felt her pent up frustration exploding out of her like the heat now leaching from the very earth's mantle, through the vent. "Does she have any idea what this is really about?" Nayidia left the foaming cauldron and returned to the top deck. The sharks still patrolled the area, but steered clear of the witch. Her three braids spread out from her head, waving about in the current like eels. She could barely see the tallest spire of Undersea Palace from here. The innocent little guppy who thought she could make her father see. Nayidia wanted to burst with loathing.
"Davor wants the one thing he can never have," she seethed. "Power; yes, he is King, but look at him! He can't even speak to his own council, he has to use his daughter to do it! Well, Davor," she muttered to herself. "Soon you will no longer have your little mouthpiece, and then where will you be? What power could you wield then?" Nayidia paused. The doll—the human doll with its ridiculous covering, made in the image of the land-walkers and yet having no automation of its own—lay where Ylaine had placed it. The witch swam to retrieve it.
"The Doll King will have no one to make him go or do," she said, stroking the stiff, coral-like cheek. "And so he will sit, in his palace, on his throne—" her hands trembled as they squeezed the small body. "Waiting, just waiting for the power to happen upon him until—" With a muted snap the body shattered in her hands. Pieces dropped to the seabed, most of them tangled in the folds of the dress. Nayidia still held the head. She turned it over. Peeking through the neck, she could see the backs of its glass eyes; the head held nothing—until Nayidia crammed a sea urchin into the void. Two spikes pressed against the right eye until it popped free of the socket, letting the spines protrude to create a gruesome visage.
"Until the one with true power takes the kingdom from he who is not fit to rule," she finished. Swimming down to where the pieces of doll had landed, Nayidia retrieved two of the shards—those imbecilic flat feet—and brought them to the cauldron. Carving into the hard surface of each the shapes of five toes on the ends, she released them into the cloud.
"And when that time comes," she whispered, "I will be ready."
Satisfied that the potion was underway, Nayidia retrieved one more bottle. This did not contain any sort of vile substance, but instead, a piece of parchment bearing a list of explicit instructions, addressed to "Her Majesty, The Queen of Crossway."
Nayidia swam with this bottle up to the rocky crags of the mainland, far on the other side of the channel from Overcliff. Entering a small, mostly-submerged cove, she reached a hand out of the water and grasped the branch she felt there. Pulling it toward herself, Nayidia wrestled the entire shrub into the water. The twigs bit into her air-dried hands unmercifully, but she submerged them till the pain subsided. Tucking the bottle with the letter into a designated nook where her contacts were sure to find it, Nayidia swam back out to the channel. Just before she dived, Nayidia noticed an odd sight: four humans climbing into a small boat. There were docks, yes, but this was the only boat the island had anymore. Nayidia noticed something striking about the features of one human in particular. It put her in the mind of conducting business with the royal family of Overcliff, back when such a thing was common practice. But surely that generation must have died out by now! Nayidia ducked quickly as the human in question suddenly turned in her direction.
Something about the man...
Nayidia smiled and returned to her lair. She selected her ingredients carefully; it wasn't the plan she had, but it would work just as well, perhaps even better. There was just one more spell to work.
On the surface, Prince Nathan, his underling Simon, his good friend Tom, and Tom's friend Dan all climbed into the sailboat for a brisk blow over the channel. Nathan sensed that all was not well in the kingdom, that very soon he would not be able to freely enjoy himself as he always had. Hence he had taken it upon himself to do those things he would miss the most, as often as he could till it was not his choice to make anymore.
"Take her starboard, Dan!" He called as the sail began to luff, flapping gently in the breeze that blew from an odd quarter. After the maneuver was completed, Nathan stretched out on the bench, sighing, "Ahh, this is the life!"
"So, Tom," said Dan, "I thought you and the Prince were going hunting today."
"We tried," Tom answered.
"There were no more animals in the forest," explained Nathan.
Simon snorted, "Yes, because you killed all of them already."
"Hey," cried Nathan, "it's not my fault we live on an island! Besides, I am the reason the woods are safe to play in now."
"I suppose you think that's the important thing," Simon sneered.
"Well," Dan interposed, seeing the rising temper between the boys, "at any rate, it's a good day for sailing anyway."
Nathan was grateful to be talking about something else. "Yep; you'd think more people would be out here on a day like this. I can't believe this is the last boat in the kingdom."
"My father says that the King used to have a whole armada, and every family had a boat," Simon muttered.
Dan chortled, "Yes, well, I believe your dad also said that Overcliff used to trade with the fairies that lived on Crossway."
"Fairy trade?" Nathan asked incredulously. "I've always been taught that fairies didn't exist."
"Nobody knows for sure," Tom put in, "but a lot of the older people seem convinced of it; what I don't get is how we could go from having so many boats to having just this one." He patted the side of the vessel.
Simon trailed a hand in the water, leaving a trail of bubbles in the wake. "Remember that harsh winter we had last year?" He asked.
"How can I forget?" Nathan replied. "I was stuck in that beastly castle for what felt like years, with nothing to do but sit around the fire and eat—I even started studying with Giles to pass the time!"
Simon nailed the prince with a hard look. "While you were sitting in your castle looking for amusement, the rest of the kingdom’s citizens were freezing to death in their beds. Everyone decided that having fires for warmth and cooking was better than having a boat, so we used our own watercraft for fires."
Tom and Dan fell sheepishly silent. Nathan was not one to wallow in discomfort.
"Well that was silly! They could have just as easily bought a permit to cut down the trees in the forest, or gone to the marketplace to buy firewood."
"With what money, Prince?" asked Simon earnestly. "Overcliff is dwindling away—"
"No, stop!" Nathan snapped, "Don't say that!" He pulled the brim of his hat low over his face and rolled over to face the other direction from the young man. The sun was warm, the movement of the boat peaceful and gentle as a cradle—
Nathan jumped awake as a splash of water hit his arm. He glared at Dan in the stern.
"What gives?" He complained.
Dan glanced up at him. "What are you talking about? I didn't do anything."
Just then, Nathan noticed that it was getting very dark very quickly.
"Uhh," Simon stammered behind him, "guys?"
Nathan turned to see the biggest, blackest storm cloud he had ever seen build up out of nowhere, blotting out the sun and pouring rain into the channel. The sail snapped crazily, and with a quick ripping sound it became a pathetic-looking flag of truce waving at the angry sky.
"ROW!" Nathan screamed, and Tom and Simon grabbed the oars from the bottom of the boat. The sea churned and swelled, burgeoning against the sides of the narrow channel like a restrained dragon. The waves carried the little boat so high that for a dreadful minute, their view of the dock was obscured by a wall of water. Then they began to descend.
"Hang on!" Yelled Nathan, but before he could follow his own advice, a sudden jerk twisted the boat out from under him, sending the young man high into the air. Nathan hit the water hard, and began sinking faster than he could swim upward. His lungs ached for breath. Blackness crept into his vision—but not before he glimpsed what looked to be a woman's face, filled with fear and moving toward him very fast. The blackness consumed him as strong arms wrapped around his waist.