“I walk up, right to the elevated platform where fifteen thrones sit. I can see the king’s scrutinizing expression. I am merely a small, meaningless nymph who is much lower than him on whatever social scale you look at. I am here to entertain the king, the royal family, and his court before hundreds of princesses or girls of noble status come and try to entertain the thirteen princes.”
The king’s throne room truly is as magnificent as everyone describes it, if not more. The room is made of marble, and the ceiling reaches about forty feet above me. Guards prod me in, but I don’t need them ushering me to know what to do. I’ve had plenty of practice. Smile, bow, perform, and dance. Then smile, bow, and make your exit. I stride in, confident in my own abilities. I walk up, right to the elevated platform where fifteen thrones sit. I can see the king’s scrutinizing expression. I am merely a small, meaningless nymph who is much lower than him on whatever social scale you look at. I am here to entertain the king, the royal family, and his court before hundreds of princesses or girls of noble status come and try to entertain the thirteen princes. Thirteen out of five hundred will become brides, and one will be the future queen of Acelin.
I point to one of the waterfalls and twirl my finger around. It obeys, copying my actions. There are “oohh’s” and “aahh’s” coming from the court, but the royal family is silent. They’re my target. If they like it, I get handsome pay. I begin to twirl the one on the opposite direction too, then I move my right hand to the other side. The twirling waterfall gracefully moves across the room to where I point and combines with the other spinning waterfall, making a bigger, grander display. I turn my head to the right, looking at the royal family. I have a few princes hooked on the edge of their seats, including the heir to the throne. I wink and go back to my work.
Half an hour later, I finish the exhibit of my powers. I even managed to get a stream of water to curve around the thrones of the royal family. Cheers erupt from the courts, and I even get a standing ovation. The queen and all her sons give me one as well. A standing ovation from fourteen royals, not bad for someone like me. The king smiles and claps a little. His eldest son nudges him, and the king begrudgingly stands to clap for his insignificant performer.
I smile widely and bow in a similar way as before. “As always, a privilege, your excellencies,” I say and make my exit. Two guards lead me to my temporary room.
I begin to pack. My sister will be expecting me to be home tomorrow. I organize the very few belongings I have in my travel bag and grab my train ticket home. They said they’d escort me in fifteen minutes, at 18:00 sharp. So I sit and wait on the bed.
I’ve been in Creledo for two days. It’s even bigger than where I live, an underwater city called Oceim where every saltwater nymph lives. Creledo is the capital, but it isn’t where the king resides year round. He travels to different regions in the country to seek warmer weather than in the capital. Winter is harshest there because the ice faes, fairies, and nymphs all reside in Tostica which is a mere twenty miles away. I see the king more often than most because he has a summer home a few miles away from Ociem on the beach. A little town even sprang up around it. The town grew into the city of Gardenia, named after the magnificent gardens growing in front of the summer palace, which the public could view from outside the gates. I work in Gardenia. It’s not the most honorable job, but the pay is handsome, and I’m good at it.
My sister has a much more suitable job for a young nymph. She works in Ociem as a jeweler. She hunts for shells and turns them into the best jewelry in all of Acelin. She even sells them to the citizens of Gardenia. She said the queen even bought a necklace she made once. She’s very respected in Gardenia and Ociem unlike me. But I was desperate before my sister got a job.
I am interrupted from my thoughts when there is a heavy knocking on the door. It isn’t 18:00 yet, but maybe they came to collect me early.
I open the door, luggage in hand — if you can even call it that.
“Miss, we’re taking you home a bit early,” a tall, red-headed guard says.
“Alright,” I say and step out with them.
“Your pay will be delivered to your bank account,” the other guard tells me.
Perfect, I can’t be robbed on the train then.
They lead me out of my room and through the rest of the marble palace to a waiting carriage.
A servant opens the door for me and helps me in. The carriage is spacious, and the windows let in a lot of light. I sit on one of the velvet cushioned benches and stare out the window. The red-headed guard sits across from me, holding a long spear. The other, shorter guard takes his seat next to me holding a similar spear.
Am I that important that they have to use spears to protect me?
“What is it like in Ociem?” the redhead says, trying to start a conversation.
“There are many shops,” I say. “They sell one of a kind things. Jewelry you can get from nowhere else, amazing food and it’s not salty, and novelties from wreckages. The nymphs that do know of wreckages are archaeologists or investigators for the government.”
“What do you eat since you’re underwater?”
“Well, unknown to a lot, the city is surrounded by a bubble of oxygen. So it’s dry, and we breathe air, but nymphs can breathe both air and water. Cargo subs bring supplies to and from Ociem.”
“Of course,” the shorter one says. “But the bubble is interesting.”
“Yes,” I say, and the rest of the ride is silent.
We arrive at the Korona station at 18:15. The servant comes and opens the door again. The shorter guard steps out first before the servant helps me out again, and the redhead follows. They lead me to the check-in for the station.
A woman with classic black glasses looks at me sternly. She’s a member of the Acelian National Guard or ANG. She has on a black jumpsuit, making her movements versatile and agile while also making it appear she is in a structured, organized group. On her upper left sleeve is the Acelian crest, a Phoenix with its wings spread proudly. Little color dots circle it — green, orange, white, silver, lilac, blue, beige, and violet. One for each power group. She has her name tagged onto the jumpsuit. Admiral McKinnley. She has her auburn hair in a tight bun on top of her head. Her stormy gray eyes fix themselves on me.
“Name?” she commands more than asks.
“Atlantica Reef,” I reply, my voice level.
“Ticket.” She holds her hand out from behind the desk. I open my bag and take out the train ticket the Royals provided me. It’s made of silver colored paper, meaning a seat in the second class car. McKinnley scans the ticket, enters the code on it, and tears off the part meant for records. She hands me the other half.
“I’m going to have to search your bag and pat you down,” she says and gets up from her desk and gets out of the box she sits in. When she gets out, I can see she’s wearing black, knee high, lace up, heeled combat boots. It makes her look very badass, and part of women’s training for the ANG is learning to run in heels. How useful in cases like these. I wonder what her power is.
“Bag.” She holds her hand out. I hand her my luggage. She sets it on her desk and rummages through it. After a thorough search, she closes my bag and hands it back to me. She pats me down. I’m calm while doing this, it’s for security. She’s finished quickly, and the shorter guard leads me inside after she opens the door. The redhead stays behind. I catch a glimpse of him flirting and her blushing before I leave.
The silver bullet train speeds into the station at 18:30. Right on time. The guard bids me farewell, and I get on once the train stops. A conductor guides me to the second class car and my seat. It’s more luxurious than I could’ve dreamed. There are more comforts than I have ever seen at home. My sister and I live in the rundown part of town, in a dilapidated shack.
There is velvet cushioned seating and a table in the middle, for what I can’t imagine. I have my own compartment closed off by a sliding wooden door, allowing for privacy. The train will take two days to reach Ociem, so there’s another door behind me. That’s where my sleeping quarters are most likely and also the latrine. I just sit and look out the window. The bullet train begins to rise because of the magnets it uses. It’s a great alternative to what people were using years ago to power trains. The magnets on the train and on the platform are now at the same poles making the train levitate effortlessly above the tracks before speeding off.
I watch as the scenery passes by in a blur but quickly get bored, so I open my bag and take out my belongings. A locket, a few changes of clothing, and a book that I’ve read about five times already from cover to cover. The book’s about the history of sea nymphs. It’s got records of all the sea nymphs who ever lived in Ociem, and I’m trying to find any family ties I can because my sister should not have to live the way she does. I haven’t found anything — not one thing — with the only exception being dead relatives, like our parents. I sigh and put the clothes and book back, but I hold onto the locket. My sister made it out of shells, but I haven’t put any pictures in there. I put away the ring I received from my best friend. I don’t want to wear it for the fear it will be stolen.
I put the locket back into my bag with him in mind and go to my sleeping quarters.
There’s a comfy looking bed in one corner, a bathroom with a shower is in an adjacent room, and a vanity is placed opposite to the bed. I place my carpet bag on the bed and relax. I decide it’d be nice to take a shower and a nap. I head into the beautiful washroom. Towels hang on a rack next to the huge shower. I slide open the glass door and examine it. There’s no tub. Just a tile floor with a drain in the middle. I go back and lock the sliding door to my compartment, then the one for my sleeping quarters, and finally the one to the bathroom before taking my strapless, sweetheart neckline, light blue, chiffon dress off. My underwear follows, and I begin to remove my hair from its braid and free it from the hair accessories I used for my performance. I take my makeup remover out of my bag and begin taking off the heavy eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, lipstick, and blush I used. It feels good to be completely bare for once. No paint on my face, no suffocating dresses, and to finally free myself, I kick off my heels. My natural face shows in the mirror, and I almost don’t recognize myself. It’s been forever since I’ve seen myself without makeup. I look pretty either way, but I feel better like this. I step into the shower and cleanse myself with the scented soaps and oils provided in lukewarm water. Afterward, I dry myself and put on the bathrobe provided before heading to get changed into a comfortable outfit for once in my life. I put on my favorite light wash, ripped, denim, skinny jeans and a white off the shoulder top. I slip on a pair of sandal flip flops. I let my hair out and go back to do my makeup. I put on minimal mascara and apply my eyeliner in the cat eye style.
I take a look at myself. I look good.
I unlock all the doors and sit back down on the cushioned benches. A waiter enters my compartment and puts a platter on the table along with a bottle of ginger ale.
“In case of any motion sickness,” he says and exits as quickly as he came, sliding my compartment door closed behind him. I look at the covered tray and lift the cover out of curiosity. The tray is full of food for an amazing dinner plus dessert. California rolls with a side of soy sauce as an appetizer, chicken breast with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and finally for dessert, creme brûlée. I eat the meal, savoring every bite. I’ll never eat this well again. My mind wanders to how the first class must be treated if this is only second class. I relax after I finish the meal and neatly put the plates and dishes back before covering the tray again. I take the bottle of ginger ale to my bedroom and put it in my bag. My sister and I rarely drink pop, so I want her to share it with me. I feel bad Airia won’t get to try an amazing dinner like this, but she’ll have ginger ale, so I guess that makes up for it.
I cannot fathom what to do at this point. I’ve got nothing to read or take my mind off my boredom, so I just hope the waiter comes back to take my tray.
He does after a few minutes thankfully, and he asks me, “Do you need anything, miss?”
“Could I get a book?” I ask.
The waiter nods. “Do you have one in mind?”
“Not really, but I do enjoy the works of Otega Green,” I reply. He nods then disappears before coming back in ten minutes with two books.
“I’ve got two, miss,” he says and puts them on the table. “Perfect Strangers and Perfectly Imperfect.”
I thank him, and he leaves. I then lock my compartment for the night and head to my “bedroom.” I slip out of my normal clothes and put on my nightgown and braid my hair into one long plait before getting into the comfy bed with Perfect Strangers. I read for two more hours before falling asleep.