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When Aria had entered Valador, she was stunned. If she were breathing normally, the sight would have made her gasp. Merfolk swam all around her, their scales shimmering in the glow of bioluminescent stones that filled the city and had been used for its buildings. There were many sea creatures, as well, seeming to be unconcerned by the fish-people around them. The city was filled with various colors, but not a bit of red or even orange could be seen. Of course, that wasn't really a surprise.
The city was well-hidden under an enormous dome of stone. The only way to get to it was through the tunnels, so it would be all but impossible for humans to find. Aria took in the sights with wide-eyed amazement, unable to focus on one thing for long. "This is Valador? It's beautiful!"
Kai smiled, releasing her hand. When Aria glanced down at the hand with a questioning look, he gave an apologetic shrug. "We can't be seen holding hands, here."
"Right." She nodded her understanding and smiled. "So what are you going to show me first?"
"Well, we don't have much time, since we need to make sure you get back to the surface before you change back, so I just figured we'd swim around for a little while." He offered her a smile. "Will that be enough for you, tonight?"
"That will be plenty," she assured him, "Just being in this city is like a dream." She looked around, scarcely believing she was in an underwater kingdom. It just didn't seem possible. "I would be happy, even if we had to go back straightaway."
"We don't have to do that, at least," he replied, "I can show you around a little. Just stay near me. It wouldn't do for you to get lost, now."
Aria smiled. "Very well. Lead the way, your highness."
He frowned at that, making Aria think she might have said something insensitive. "There's no need for titles, even here, okay?"
She nodded, feeling a little guilty. "I was only teasing. Sorry."
He smiled, again, and nodded. "It's fine. I just prefer to be less formal. It seems silly for people to treat me like royalty just because I was raised by the king and queen. Honestly, there's no telling why I was put with them, anyway."
Aria cocked her head at that. "Well, it would be because they thought you would be a good king, right? They can see the future and they knew you would be the best choice for the position."
"Maybe." He took on a thoughtful look. "But it could be something else. It is in the best interest for me to be in this position, but, for all I know, it could be because I'm going to fail as a king and be overthrown, making way for a better government. I may be destined to be killed or something."
She blinked, surprised by the idea. It seemed hard to believe that there was a group of people who would make such a plan, but she had heard about what they did to Alizarin, so that didn't seem very farfetched. Even so, she didn't want to think of that as a possibility. "Well, you're just a basket full of sunshine, aren't you?"
He looked at her and gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry. I don't mean to be so negative when we're supposed to be having fun. Let's go." He swam away, making sure she was able to keep up.
Freya watched from a small distance back, making herself transparent in the water. She didn't want to intrude, but she felt like she needed to keep an eye on the pair, lest they should get into trouble. She told herself there was no reason to worry, but that didn't help. Even if the merfolk were all friendly and posed no threat, there was always the danger of Aria losing track of time and transforming in water that would kill her within minutes. Freya couldn't risk allowing that to happen, so she followed them, while doing her best to go unnoticed.
Aria and Kai swam around for about an hour. She was tempted to go see the palace, but he thought it was too soon for that. He couldn't introduce her to his parents without making people wonder why he had. Aria smiled as a group of children swam by them. She waved and they waved back, cheerfully. It barely seemed like any time had passed before Kai told her they had to return to the surface. Because of how deep they were, it took a while to get through the tunnels and to the beach, despite how fast they swam.
She felt a little strange when they broke through the surface of the water and the cool, night air hit her cheeks. Reflexively, she took a breath, feeling her lungs expanding as she did. It amazed her that something so ordinary could suddenly feel strange. The sun was already rising as they reached the sandy beach. It cast a red hue on the water and Aria wondered if it was possible for the merfolk to find such a thing beautiful.
"Are you alright?" Kai asked, noticing the bewildered look on her face.
Aria smiled at him and nodded, pulling herself onto the beach. "It's all just so surprising, you know? I never imagined it would feel like this."
He returned the smile and sat beside her. "I felt the same way after my first night with legs. Transforming is really incredible. I'll be rather sad when it ends, completely."
She nodded her understanding. "Well, you'll have some fun memories, at least. You'll just have to be sure to make the most of the time you have during the full moon."