Ariel sunk back under the surface for a moment and took a deep breath. Was it time? Could it not wait? Could he not wait?
Looking into those eyes of darkness, Ariel assumed the god never had to.
His broad shoulders relaxed, his gaze tracing her form in the water, he looked calm, for now. His figure, a dark, wispy outline against the flickering light, felt bold, defined. A clear tone atop a hazy picture.
She had never met a man before, not really, nor a god, for that matter, so she could not describe his stature as such. But, he was commanding.
With nowhere else to go, and unable to stay still, she emerged from the water and came back to the surface’s edge. “Nothing is ever free.”
“Still not trusting me?” Hades countered. He smiled, then raised his hand, creating a path on the wall next to them, both of land and sea. “Come with me, Ariel. Or, is the surface world not worth the risk?”
“But, you could never fully trust me,” the god repeated her words with a coy smile. He stepped toward the tunnel, and paused, his back toward her. “I won’t offer again.”
Her heart pounded, and she took one final glance behind her, where her escape used to exist.
This dream to walk on land, to explore the world above, was it now or never? She would never forgive herself if she never took this chance, but at what cost? What of her friends and family? Flounder, and Daddy, would she get her chance to say goodbye? Would this even be the last she ever saw of them? And this god of the dead, what would he want in return?
Ariel released the grip of the cloth tablet and let it slip from her arms to the sea floor below. Then, she ducked under water and darted forward, into the path, before that was lost forever, as well.
Ariel would not wait beside him, she continued her swimming along the tunnel, staying underwater while keeping next to the path he mostly likely walked upon.
The further she swam, the darker the tunnel became, until Ariel had to slow down, putting her hands in front of her to find her way.
The liquid felt thick, like wet sand, and swimming became more difficult. She kicked harder and harder, not afraid of hitting anything, just determined to get out. No matter how much she kicked, her body still sludged forward like a snail.
The thickness made it harder to breath, as well. Her hand moved from the front of her to her neck, as she clawed at her gills to get them to open up. Nothing seemed to be blocking them, yet, she could not breath.
Her hands reaching forward again, she grabbed at whatever she could as she began to suffocate under the water. Her fingers touched thick sand, and she clawed at it, pulling herself to it.
Ariel slowly crawled out of the dark water, gasping for air as she coughed up sea water from her lungs. She pulled her body up onto the shore, sliding her knees forward slowly to escape the black river.
She took deep breaths of air, then started to cough and shiver from the sudden cold. She reached up to her gills again, to find the skin on her neck was bare. Her breathing quickened in a panic.
“Do I have to teach you to breathe as well?” She heard the god ask from above her. Looking up, her eyes squinted through the droplets of water as she continued to cough. Breathe? As in air.
She pulled her legs up to her torso from the cold, thick river, when her heart stopped. Glancing down, her hands reach out and brushed off wet sand from her smooth, creamy legs. Legs, she had legs now.
She felt his hand touch her arm and her body was pulled forward abruptly. There was no time to admire her new limbs, no time to learn to stand. Ariel stumbled forward, gripping his clothes as she leaned against his chest.
Managing short, quick breaths, she could hardly control her heart rate. Before she knew it, she had been granted what she always wanted, and yet, standing in front of this god, she felt an emotion mermaids did not know how to comprehend.
Shame, embarrassment. Ariel was not just cold, she was naked, exposed and unsure how to cover herself to feel secure again.
Carved, jeweled shells that were normally worn as a sign of royalty, and fashion, were reduced to the only piece of clothing that covered her skin from his eyes.
She could not breath, could not think. And as the god held her upright, without holding her for comfort, she felt hot, burning water drip from the corner of her eyes and slide down her cheeks. It was salty and her throat held a tight knot, keeping her from speaking.
Surely, she was dying, her body melting away, unable to make the change.
“Apparently, I do.” Hades slid his hand from her arm, up her shoulder to her neck. Then, he tilted her chin and pressed his lips against hers.
Her whole body warmed from his touch, and she felt the knot melt away. It was like he breathed life into her again.
Ariel pushed on his chest, needing to exhale, until their lips broke away. She turned, then stumbled and fell back down to the sand, coughing up water from her lungs. She took long, deep breaths, now that she knew how, and looked up at Hades, wiping those hot streaks from her cheeks. “I… I have legs… I have legs! You gave me legs!”
Finally, the realization set in, and joy began to fill her whole body. Pushing her hands into the sand, Ariel struggled to get back on her feet.
“I-oh!” Finally putting weight on her new limbs, she felt them give way and collapsed to the ground once more.
“I shall have to teach you to stand, as well,” the God of the underworld spoke from above her.
“Thank you… I don’t know how to thank you.” She turned and reached for his garment, to help herself stand again.
“Nothing is ever free,” Hades replied with a smirk.
Looking up, her eyes met with his and she felt that shame again, that feeling she could not describe as his gaze peered over her form.
“So many new emotions a mermaid is not used to feeling,” He knelt down, holding a folded cloth over his arm, “Your heart beats wildly, your body frozen, not responding to that natural flee response you are so used to relying upon.”
She kept her eyes turned away, her arms covering her chest protectively.
“Relax, Ariel,” his palm touched her cheek and he raised her chin to meet his eyes again, “I will teach you what those emotions mean, in due time.” Pulling the cloth from his arm, Hades draped the blue silk over her shoulders.
Despite her covering her chest, Ariel took the garment and wrapped it around her waist twice, tying it off on one side. He understood her shame, and how to make it go away, but he offered neither knowledge nor comfort in her distress.
Arial slid her legs out in the sand and pushed herself up to sit on her knees. “What is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to sing, Ariel. I want you to sing for me.” The god stood. “When I first saw you, your voice let off the most enchanting melody to ever reach my ears. Want and desire poured through every word,” his steps in the sand circled around her. “Beauty is dull and so vulgar these days. Skin deep and only as thick as the ink that makes it so.”
Ariel felt him touch a lock of her hair and she turned to look up into his eyes.
“But, the sounds of your chords are something even angels are envious of,” he gave a slight smirk at the irony of his little joke, but Ariel only stared up into his eyes, not knowing what an angel was.
“Your voice is something I cannot possess on my own,” he paused as he looked down at her. Then, Hades knelt down again. “I want you, Ariel.”
His fingers touched a lock of her hair again, then moved to brush her lips, before he stood and walked back toward his throne. Hades sat down and stared at her. “Now, sing for me.”
Her hands slid through the sand, and she took a deep breath, testing her new lungs.
“… Nerves, don’t fail me now,
Courage, don’t deceive me,
Wont turn back, now that I’m here.
Merfolk always say, life is full of wonders,
No one ever imagined this.”
Sliding her hands through the sand, Ariel slowly found her balance, placing her weight back on her knees.
“In a world that seems so vast,
I’ll take this journey, don’t let it pass.”
The dry sand felt so different as it slid through her fingers.
“Somewhere down this path,
I know there’s so much waiting,
Years of dreams just can’t be wrong!”
Shifting her legs back and forth, she slowly crawled, putting weight on the balls of her feet.
“Valleys old and wide,
Mountains tall and frosted,
Finally now where I belong.”
With her weight on her new feet, Ariel pushed herself off the ground, holding her arms out to try and balance herself.
“Well, starting now, I’m learning fast,
I’ll take this journey, won’t let it pass.”
Stumbling, Ariel slipped and fell again, her heart beating wildly with wonder.
“Home, sea, family,
Was there once a time they were enough for me?
Home, friends, family
I’m not turning back,
Now that I am free.”
With a new breath from her lungs, she steadied herself again and stood up, resting her weight in her heels.
“One step at a time,
One foot, then another,
Who knows where this path may lead.
Back to who I was,
No, that’s not in my future.
Much my heart still yearns to know.”
Her breath quickened with each successful step, excitement overtaking her.
“Yes, let this choice be mine
Let me control each time
My feelings burst with joy.”
Ariel stood tall, finally able to stable herself. Then, she held her breath and took her first step.
“And set me free
At last!* Oh-!”
She slipped in the sand and fell back on her butt, her legs sliding out from under her. Her cloth skirt was pulled apart from her fall, exposing herself to the god again. Her cheeks heated, feeling embarrassment for the first time for her performance.
Though, meeting his gaze, she could see how pleased he was. Please, yet very unsatiated, as he looked down at her with those black eyes.
Song*: Journey to the Past from Anastasia
Featured Image: I do not own the rights to this image. I believe the original source comes from DeviantArt, but I could not find the artist.