After fighting against slippery slopes and persistent mud-born insects intent on clinging to their boots, Lir and Tobias arrive before the cave. From afar, it had seemed like the entirety of it was only darkness, yet, now that they have taken a step inside, glowing crystals spread out across its walls like the brilliant wings of an eagle.
Lir gasps. “Woah.” His eyes widen at the sight. “What is this place?” He reaches out to touch one of the gems that emanates a soft, pink glow, but Tobias stops him.
“Don’t touch it,” he hisses, as he takes Lir’s wrist between his fingers, before he urges it back down, until Lir’s hand stills, and hangs like a marionette by his side. “You could get hurt… again.”
Again—as the days go on, Lir finds himself slowly growing to loathe the word. “I wasn’t going to,” he mutters. “I was just looking.” Lir wishes he could detach himself from Tobias’s hip. It would be nice to run away—if he could run, and if he weren’t so weak, from throwing up all day, and dying yesterday.
Tobias shoots him an unimpressed glare. Lir can only imagine what it implies. ‘Yeah, sure, you were.’ Or maybe, ‘Stop being a child.’ Perhaps it is even something akin to, ‘I regret coming on this trip with you.’
Lir shakes his head. He pushes the ideas away. There’s no use in thinking about it, for he’ll never know, and he has no plans to ask.
They advance further into the cave. The crystals begin to change in shade. Tobias and Lir turn to face the almost translucent emeralds. They come to a halt once they reach the cave’s middle.
A large body of water is placed right in the center of the path they’d been taking. The liquid barely looks real with how the light around it reflects across its surface, and ripples into a myriad of brilliant hues that merge together in a peculiar dance Lir cannot tear his eyes away from.
However, the sight of a tail swiftly swimming past them makes his heart freeze.
Lir braces himself to say something, to fight, or push Tobias out of the way—yet, to his surprise, it is his mentor who speaks up first as he steps forward and shields Lir’s figure with his body. “Who’s there?” Tobias’s shoulders rise with the tension that washes over them both. Lir’s first reflex is to grab onto the hems of his mentor’s robe and pull him backward. However, before he can do so—before he can ask his mentor if he has lost his mind—the owner of the lucid tail, tinted a faint shade of ivory, surfaces in the shape of a man whose faded, coral skin is covered in a matching set of scales.
“That’s very presumptuous of you,” the man tells them both with a scoff—even though Lir is looking down at him, it feels as if he is the one looking down on them. “You barge into my home!” The merman twirls around himself in the water. “You make a ruckus, and a mess! And then—” He smiles. His attention gravitates toward Lir, before it stops entirely on Tobias’s figure. “Then…” The Halloran frowns. His gaze fills with rancor. “You bring in the trash of the ocean here, a human, and you expect me to make small talk?” He swims away, casually, and turns his back to them, as if Lir and Tobias aren’t a threat, even when he would clearly be outnumbered in a fight.
Lir finds this unnerving. He can’t relax. He can’t reply.
The Halloran comes back up to the surface again. His long, blond strands remind Lir of how algae tends to sway beneath the ocean floor. They touch the edges of the man’s hips, that linger beneath the water. “And you…” The Halloran’s glare falls back onto Lir. “You haven’t gotten your tail yet. Why?” He cocks his head to the side. He yawns, as the tip of his fingers cover half his mouth. “Is it funny to you,” the Halloran asks him, “that you may perish by acting this way?”
Tobias gasps. The sound is a choked one. “Perish?” He steps forward in cold rage. Lir has to hold him back at some point, for his mentor is dangerously close to slipping into the pool. “What are you trying to say?”
“Urgh.” The Halloran cringes. “This is why I hate humans.” He snaps his fingers. Without warning, Tobias falls to the floor like a limp ragdoll, void of life.
Lir cuts his knees open on the stones beneath them when he tries to prevent his mentor from hitting his head against the ground. The Halloran doesn’t seem to care much for his minor injuries, though, for he quickly returns to staring at his nails. “What did you do to him?” Lir shouts, as he tries to shake his mentor awake.
The Halloran waves his question away. “Stop that.” He huffs. “You’re not helping him in any way with your barbaric manners. Just plop him up against the cavern’s wall somewhere and let him have his lovely little nap.”
So, he’s just sleeping then, Lir thinks, with relieved sigh, as he follows the Halloran’s suggestion and presses a hand to his barely beating heart. “Why make him sleep?” it is the first question that leaves his lips. “And what—” Lir bites his lip. His fingers curl into fists as he turns to face the Halloran, who could very well become his enemy in the coming minute, depending on whether or not he suggests they eat Tobias next like in the legends Lir had heard long ago. “What was that all about? What do you mean I’ll die if I don’t get a tail?”
Can Lir actually grow one? How would that even work?
Another smirk takes the Halloran’s lips. He bares his teeth. They are razor sharp, akin to the ones of sharks and deep-sea creatures his mother warned him about as a child.
“I made him sleep because I knew you would have questions, newborn,” he tells Lir. “Ones that can’t be discussed in the presence of his kind.”