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“What was that about?” Talia asked as Serena returned to her side in front of the clams.
“I was just seeing them out. I didn’t tell them anything because I don’t know anything.”
“And if you did know something?”
Serena was silent for a minute as she looked at a shell, almost ready to open. “It was Douglas. He’s all grown up, but it was him.”
“I told you not to name them, even then,” Talia said, “You know better, now.”
“I know.” Serena didn’t look at her. “Even so, that was him. You know what he’s suffered and you expect me not to want to help in any way I can?”
“Our duty is to the kingdoms, not one child.”
“I know,” she insisted, “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Talia frowned and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You know he has more trials ahead. I trust you didn’t warn them.”
“You say trials, as if there’s some point to it.” Serena’s tone was bitter. “Isn’t he just a sacrifice for the greater good or whatever?”
“You should watch your tone,” Talia warned, “We can’t lose faith in Spiro.”
“Of course not. We must always trust our great leader.”
Talia continued to frown as she watched the younger mermaid’s expression. “You didn’t tell them what’s to come, correct?”
“No,” Serena replied, “I didn’t tell them anything.”
“She’s nearby,” Freya announced, swimming faster, “I can sense her!”
Kai just barely managed to keep up with the nymph as she swam closer to the familiar shore, feeling relieved to know that Aria was in that direction. The pair paused as they saw Aria and Alizarin together.
“What are you doing?” Kai demanded, swimming closer.
Aria smiled as she saw him. “You’re okay!” She wrapped him in a hug. “I was so worried.” She pulled back and looked at the prince. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“No.” Kai kept his gaze fixed on Alizarin as he positioned himself between Aria and him. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?” He spoke to Aria, even though he was watching the Glemoran. “If he laid a hand on you…”
“He didn’t do anything,” Aria rushed to assure him, “He was helping me.”
“Helping you?” Kai looked at her. “Why would he do that? He’s a Glemoran; a servant to the royal family, no less.”
“Even so, he helped me,” Aria insisted, “I’d be in trouble if he hadn’t.”
Kai turned back to Alizarin. “This is some sort of trick, right? You lead her here and get her to trust you, then attack?”
Alizarin stayed silent, making no attempt to defend himself.
“It’s nothing like that,” Aria said, “He was just trying to help. You don’t always have to assume the worst of him.”
Kai gave her a sympathetic look. “Aria, I realize you don’t understand certain things, but he’s not just a Glemoran. He’s a red-tail. They can’t be trusted.”
Aria didn’t mean to slap the prince. She never even thought about it, but, suddenly, her hand was moving through the water and landing on his face. Of course, the pressure of the water made it little more than a tap, but he stared at her in shock.
“Aria…” His eyes were wide and his voice, baffled. “What was that?”
“Sorry.” Her tone wasn’t particularly apologetic. “You just really shouldn’t say things like that. You don’t know Rin, at all, but you keep making all these assumptions.”
“You don’t need to defend me,” Alizarin said, softly.
“Rin?” Kai asked at the same time.
She pointed at Alizarin. “He’s helped me, today. Yet, you continue to act like he is some sort of villain. Do you have any idea how that makes you sound?”
“Let it go, Aria,” Alizarin told her, “There’s no need for you to do this for me.”
“Why not?” She turned to him. “Why are you so against allowing anyone to defend you?”