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Of the Sea and Sky

Chapter Text

The waves of the Yellow Sea turned dark like the sky above. The moon and stars had risen and created a nightscape. The only illumination within the sea came from the white celestial objects dotting the night sky.   

            An orange-tailed mermaid with golden hair, wearing a pearl headdress, and a midnight blue shell bodice was sleeping peacefully in a clamshell. In her dream, a giant golden bird dived into the sea and instantly turned into a giant gold fish with pectoral fins in a jagged shape like that of bird wings. The massive creature she was dreaming about was the Kun-Peng, a legendary creature that was known as a Peng in its bird form, and a Kun in its fish form.

            She had heard the tale about the Kun-Peng but had never seen it fly as a Peng and knew that she would never be able to swim next with it. Her sea home was much too small to hold such a giant creature, so it only lived inside her dreams, gazing at her with intense silver eyes.    

The next day, the wind seemed to howl, and the rain beat down relentlessly. This disappointed her greatly as she wanted to go up to the surface but didn’t want to get caught in the sting of the rain. The Yellow Sea became hazy due to the downpour scattering the soil that was carried into it.

She wondered out loud “Will the rain ever stop?”

Her friend, the blue mermaid, who didn’t mind the cold as much as she did; went to the surface, smelled the air, and looked at the rain clouds. She predicted that it would not stop anytime soon.

That night, the orange mermaid dreamt the same dream, but the rain didn’t stop. The small sea seemed to grow as the rain continued to fall.

Humans were dying as the rivers and oceans began to flood. One day, the orange mermaid saw a black-haired man's body approaching the seafloor, she grabbed him under his arms and tried to swim up to the surface as fast as she can but there seemed to be no end to the water.

While she struggled to swim upwards, the Mermaid Queen’s voice spoke in her mind.

‘Ai, Ai. You must stop now. Your efforts are valiant, but the water extends to the surface world. You cannot save the human. It is out of your hands.’

“What?... The rain. This is all because of the rain, isn’t it? Your Majesty.”

‘Yes. I have spoken with the Dragon Kings. They are not responsible for the rain. We believe the gods are behind the never-ending rain.’

“But… My Queen…Why are they doing this?”

‘That we do not know.’

 The solemnness of the Mermaid Queen’s voice struck something within her core. Ai released the human from her hands, and he began to fall.

Suddenly, a golden ball of light flew down as if it were lightening and surrounded the human man as the light began to take the form of a winged being.

Ai’s midnight blue eyes widened in shock and she began to swim down towards the winged being made of light as he began to materialize into a silver haired angel wearing white robes holding the human man in his arms.

Something about him was familiar, although she was sure she had never seen the man before in her life. He was incredibly handsome, and his white feathered wings were beautiful. Those silver eyes… They were just as stern and intense as those of the Kun in her dreams.

When Ai regained her voice, she asked “Who…Who are you?”

The man spoke with an intense coldness that matched those of his silver eyes. “I am Kǎi, an angel of the Nine Heavens.”

For some reason, part of Ai was expecting him to introduce himself as Kun. His light was gold like the Kun-Peng and although he was a being of the sky, here he was, floating in the sea, as if the water had no weight on him.

Kǎi continued to speak “Why did you let this man go? I saw how you struggled to swim as high as you could and yet, you abandoned your resolve just as you abandoned the man.”

Ai looked down in shame and said “The… The Mermaid Queen said he couldn’t be saved. …Besides, even as we speak, he has no home to return to!” She yelled her last words with frustration. Who was he to judge her anyways?!

“You are an angel, are you not? You could’ve easily saved him. You are a messenger of the gods. If you are so concerned with human life, why are they flooding the surface world, and drowning humans?!”

Kǎi’s stern look never faltered, even as she yelled at him.

“A human has dared to mistreat the Thunder God and incur his wrath.  He asked the Rain God to pour as much rain as he could. If the human does not repent, all of mankind will continue to suffer.”

“What?!” Ai put her hand on her side and held her palm open with the other. “And what do the other gods think of this?”  

It didn’t seem fair that so many humans had to die for one human’s transgression.

The angel closed his eyes and said, “It is not my place to say.”

Ai shook an accusing finger at him “Then you have no right to speak to me.”

She turned and began to angrily swim away, regardless of his appearance or his status, she couldn’t tolerate his attitude.

“Wait.”

She simply ignored him. With a simple flap of his wings, Kǎi quickly sped through the water and blocked her.

“What are you doing? Shouldn’t you deal with the human instead of swimming around here?” Ai asked in a peeved tone.

“My apologies. I should not have spoken to you like that.”

Ai blinked. Considering his demeanor, she didn’t expect an apology.

Kǎi raised the human in his arms for emphasis. “This human was my charge. I was his guardian angel, but I was not allowed to intervene in his fate… I suppose I was bitter because you were able to intervene while I couldn’t.

Her expression changed into that of sympathy. “Oh. And, I’m sorry. For not saving him and for yelling at you earlier.” Ai lowered her head “…I was pretty tense.”

“Don’t be. You did what you could, given the circumstances.” Kǎi raised his arms higher and the dead male floated and was covered in golden light. When the golden light dissipated, all there was left was the man’s soul and it flew up high.

Ai opened her mouth in surprise as she witnessed the sight. “Where is his soul headed to?”

“It will ascend towards the cycle of rebirth. He was a good man. He will definitely be reborn into a better life.”

Chapter Text

The angel used his wings to propel himself forward.

Ai held out a hand “Wait, where are you going? Kǎi.”

At the mention of his name, Kǎi stopped and turned his head “At this moment, many human souls are unable to move on much like that of my charge. I must find as many human bodies as I can and free their souls.”

“I’ll help.” Ai clapped a hand over her mouth as soon as the words left her mouth. What was she saying?

She knew that the situation with Kǎi’s charge was complicated, but she still couldn’t help but feel a slight sting of guilt.

Kǎi lowered his brows “Did you mean what you said?”

“Yes! Yes, I really meant what I said. I’ll help you. I can’t pull out souls like you can, but I can help you gather as many human bodies as you need. I’ll even call my friends to help.”

Ai was embarrassed at herself. She couldn’t believe that she rambled on like that. After a moment of silence, she spoke up. “I just realized I never introduced myself, my name’s Ai.”

Kǎi gave a nod in acknowledgement. “I appreciate your offer. However, this is my task and my task alone. Farewell.”

The angel quickly moved away with a beat of his wings. Ai got hit with a stream of bubbles and when the bubbles dispersed, she raised her fists and said “Argh!! Who does that guy think he is?! Does he think he’s better than everyone just cause’ he comes from the sky?” She bent her arms and said “I’ll show him, angel or not. No one can do what he’s doing all alone.”

The orange mermaid swam off to look for her friends.

Ai entered a garden filled with kelp and red and pink roses lined with multiple colorful shells. This was the Royal Garden.

Her green tailed friend with the wavy brown hair, green eyes, wearing a beaded jade headdress, and pink shell bodice and was the one who arranged the rose garden and tended to it.

The brunette mermaid was patting soil around the roses when she noticed her friend enter “Hey Ai.”

            “Hi Lín.”

            Lín straightened her green tail and dusted her hands off. “What’s up Ai?”

            "Are you done tending the garden? I don't want to interrupt you in the middle of your job."

            "No worries. I can work while you talk to me." 

            "Um. It's fine. I don't want to share this without Qing around."

            "Alright." Once Lín finished patting down the new soil around the roses, the two of them swam towards the Royal Library.

            When they opened the doors, their blue tailed friend wearing a blue bead headdress and light blue shell bodice was making sure all the scrolls were all in order. She turned her head and greeted her friends.

            Lín asked "So, are you going to tell us your story or not? Qing can listen while she works."

            Qing nodded while rearranging the scrolls on the stone shelves.

            “Guys, you’ll never believe what just happened…”

Lín and Qing listened to Ai as she retold them about the earlier events of the day and they comforted her, telling her that she did her best to help Kǎi’s charge.

"I know! I know!" Little tears started to emerge from her eyes which turned into pearls that rolled off her cheeks. It wasn't until she had processed the whole event that she finally got hit with the full force of helplessness, guilt, sorrow, and started sobbing into her hands while Lín and Qing held her.

After Ai finally calmed down, she asked her friends if they would help her aid Kǎi in her task.

Lín held her bent arm and said, "Of course we'll help!"

Qing said "Those poor humans. If this is the only way, we can help them then we'll do it."

            Lín suggested that they report the angel's presence to the Mermaid Queen and ask her if they could help him.

Ai and Qing agreed then after Qing locked the library, Ai grabbed their hands and the trio sped through the hazy yellow water. In the halls, a dark brown wavy-haired merman with a brown tail with a golden highlight holding a spear was angrily chasing a merman with a yellow-green tail with tied back pale blond hair who was also holding a spear and both mermen nearly collided with the three.

The pale blond merman abruptly stopped which made the golden-brown tailed merman bump into his target's back.

The brunette merman said "Zhihao! You idiot! You did that on purpose."

Zhihao dryly said “Well, of course I did, you dolt." He gestured to the three mermaids. "We nearly caused a collision."

The brown-tailed merman swam towards Lín and held her hand in his which made her smile and blush.

"Lín, are you alright? That idiot didn't hurt a single scale on your tail, did he?"

Ai rolled her eyes then smiled as she sarcastically said, "Thanks for being so concerned about us Ruǎn yù."

Ruǎn yù turned then asked, "And are you ladies alright?"

The mermaids giggled at his concerned tone.

Lín said "We're all fine Ruǎn yù, thanks for asking. Are you guys fighting again? I thought you guys were supposed to be patrolling the halls.”

“We are. It’s just a certain guy thought it was funny to insult me again.”  Ruǎn yù glared at Zhihao before turning to look back at Lín “By the way, where are you ladies headed?”

Ai explained that they wanted an audience with the Mermaid Queen.

Zhihao asked about their purpose with the Mermaid Queen.

Ai replied, “Do I have to answer that?”

“Just because you work for the Queen doesn’t mean you have the privilege to call upon her Majesty as you wish.”

“Ugh. Fine.” Ai began to explain that she had encountered an angel who was gathering human bodies to release their souls and that she wanted to get permission from the Queen to aid him in his task.

The two mermen looked at each other before asking in unison “Are you serious?”

“Urgh…Why don’t you guys believe me?”

“Guys…” Lín replied in a displeased tone as she crossed her arms.

Qing simply gave the two a disapproving look.

Seeing Qing's stern blue eyes, Zhihao mustered a weak “But…”

Ruǎn yù said “Remember that time you thought you actually saw a Kun Peng, but you really dreamt it all up?”

Ai erupted “WELL, THIS TIME, I WASN’T DREAMING OK?”

Ai swam off before the two mermaids looked at the mermen disapprovingly and followed their friend. The mermen realized they were really in the wrong and swam after the mermaids and apologized profusely.

It was only when they approached the doors leading to the throne room that they decided to forgive the mermen since they got them access to seek an audience with the Queen by talking with their fellow guards who guarded the entrance.

The guards opened the door then Ruǎn yù and Zhihao escorted the mermaids as they approached the Mermaid Queen on her throne.

The Mermaid Queen had silver eyes and long silvery hair that was pulled into two buns and two tails on each side of her head. She wore a pearl headdress and a white shell bodice. Her white tail was covered under a silky white dress. She sat on her throne which was a giant silver clamshell.

They all bowed before her. “Greetings Your Majesty.”

The Queen raised her hand “Please rise. What has brought you all here?”

Ai spoke up “Your Majesty, I have come here because… Many humans are dying in our sea. There is an angel by the name of Kǎi who has appeared in our realm with the aim of freeing their bodies and souls. I, Lín, and Qing wish to aid him.”

The mermaids bowed and spoke in unison. “Please allow us to do this task, Your Majesty.”

 

Chapter Text

The Mermaid Queen was silent and thoughtful for a while as she leaned her cheek into her palm, her silver eyes looking down. Ai couldn’t help but move her intertwined hands in nervousness. It had only been a few minutes, but the silence made it feel like a while before the Queen spoke up again.

“Alright. I will give you permission to do this task.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” The mermaids spoke in unison.

With a cold solemnity, the Mermaid Queen continued speaking “However, the angel is from the Heaven Clan. Although he has stated his intentions in our sea, we cannot be sure whether he will not overstep his boundaries. I suspect that this task will take a while to complete. He will eventually have to return to Heaven at the end of each day. I want a report of when he arrives and when he leaves every day. I want you all to watch him closely. Is that understood?”

Ai couldn’t help but widen her eyes. She really didn’t think that Kǎi would so anything other than what he set out to do. But, after mulling it over, Kǎi was a foreigner and the Queen had a duty to protect the creatures of the Yellow Sea, so she had every right to be wary.

“Is that understood?”

The mermaids replied in unison “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Good, and Ruǎn yù, Zhihao, I want you two to guard them as well as aid in their task. I also want you to keep an eye on the angel as well, is that understood?”

Ruǎn yù and Zhihao agreed.

“Bring the priestess, Mei, and one of the temple guards to assist you as well. As for Qing and Lín, do you two have someone to take over your duties?”

Qing and Lín stated that they had apprentices who could take over if needed and gave the Queen the names of their substitutes.

Then the mermaids agreed with their Queen’s command and thanked the Mermaid Queen before leaving the throne room.

Ai said out loud “I wonder why the Queen wanted us to bring Mei.”

Qing said, “Mei can sense things we can’t, she’ll probably sense the dead souls before we even come across their bodies.”

Ai said “Oh~ That makes sense.”

When they finally reached the Temple of the Azure Dragon, there was a blue tailed, curly haired blonde merman with blue gray eyes holding a spear and guarding the temple.

The group immediately recognized the merman.

 They all waved and called “Yìngyù!”

Yìngyù smiled and waved back at the group.

Ruǎn yù dropped his spear as he held Yìngyù’s neck in an armlock and affectionately rubbed his knuckles on Yìngyù’s head.

“Working hard or hardly working?”

Yìngyù simply rolled his blue-gray eyes as he replied, “Of course I’m working.” His expression changed into a smile as he asked “I should be asking the same thing to you, Ruǎn yù. It looks like you all have the day off.”

 Ruǎn yù tightened his arm around Yìngyù’s neck causing the blue tailed merman to cry out “Ach!”

“Listen here, young merman. We didn’t come here to pay you a visit. We’re here on business.”

“And…Wha… Is… Ness…Isdat? ...”

Ruǎn yù lifted his eyebrow in bewilderment “What did you say?”

Zhihao covered his face with his hand, due to frustration at his colleague’s idiocy. “Ruǎn yù, just let Yìngyù go. Then, he can talk more clearly.”

“Oh.” Then when he said “Oh~” it was with a humored expression and mocking tone, knowing that he was making Yìngyù talk incomprehensively. 

He finally released Yìngyù from his hold and Yìngyù made a loud gasp.

Ruǎn yù smiled mockingly as he held up his spear “What were you saying again?”

  Yìngyù took a deep breath before speaking “As I was saying. What business is that?”

Ai spoke up and told the blonde merman about their task and why the Mermaid Queen sent them to the temple.

Ruǎn yù said “Speaking of which. Why don’t we bring him along with us? The Queen said we needed a temple guard on the team.”

Ai replied, “That’s a good idea.” She turned to Yìngyù and asked if he wanted to join them.

Zhihao got an attitude and asked “Um. So, the Queen makes us join and he gets a choice?”

Ruǎn yù bonked Zhihao in the head and told him to shut up.

Yìngyù smiled “Sure. It’ll be a nice change of scenery. Plus, there’s good company.”

Ruǎn yù turned to Zhihao then said “See? There’s no way he could refuse us. No need to get your tail in a knot.” 

Zhihao glared at Ruǎn yù.

Soon after, Yìngyù led the group in front of a pair of big red doors. He knocked on the door and loudly announced "High priestess Mei, the Queen has sent guests to see you."

From behind the doors, a mermaid with long raven hair with violet highlights wearing a red headdress, violet shell bodice, and red dress had her ruby tail in a kneeling position and her hands placed on top of her tail as her body faced forward. Across from her was a statue of the Azure Dragon placed on top of the altar.

Mei could sense the group's familiar auras. She couldn't help wondering why the Queen would send her palace staff to see her. Yìngyù had already learned long ago that it was not wise to joke with her. 

Soon after, she spoke with the strength of a commander "Bring them in."

Ai furrowed her brows "Do you guys always speak this loudly?"

Yìngyù replied in a dramatic tone "YES. Because even though those doors are unlocked, you do NOT open them. It doesn't matter whether you're a guard in that room or a guard out here. NO ONE opens those doors without having the party out here state their purpose. Because everyone in this temple knows, you do NOT disturb the High Priestess when she's praying, meditating, or doing a divination for any old reason unless it's serious business and you have to announce it like I did right now."

Zhihao commented in a rude tone "Plus, they are talking behind doors."  

Ai glared at Zhihao then the doors opened from the inside. As the group entered, Mei fixed her stern amethyst gaze on Yìngyù, causing him to swallow in nervousness.

 

 

Chapter Text

None of the merpeople who entered the alter room were new to Mei. She had known Ai, Qing, and Lín since they were children while Ruǎn yù and Zhihao were guards who were present during her induction ceremony as the new High Priestess of the Yellow Sea. Yìngyù had been trained under the same master as her but followed the path of a temple guard instead of becoming a priest.

Mei raised up her head as she spoke “So? Why did the Queen send you all to see me?”

Ai swam forward and fiddled with her index fingers as she said “Well… You see…”

After Ai finished explaining the whole story about how she attempted to save a human, failed, met the human’s guardian angel, then sought the Queen’s permission to aid Kǎi, Mei had a thoughtful expression as she looked down.

“So, that’s why there’s been a strong aura of death on the outside lately.”

 “Will you please~ help us Mei?” Ai held her hands together and begged as if she was still a child.

Mei rose up “Of course. The Queen requested my assistance. This is probably the only way we can reduce the aura of death in our sea.”

"Thank you, Mei!" Ai replied with closed eyes and a smile.

Ruǎn yù turned to Yìngyù then said, "You can feel what she's talking about right?" He dropped his spear then shook Yìngyù by the shoulders "How are you still ok? Are you ok? Are you ok?"

Ai had an exasperated expression as she placed her hands on the sides of her tail and asked "Ruǎn yù, haven't you had enough fun torturing Yìngyù outside?"

"Nope. Once is not enough. Besides, we barely see him unless it's to escort the High Priestess or at festivals."

Yìngyù replied "Well of course I'm ok. I have my endurance since I'm a temple guard you know."

Mei retorted "Liar. We have charms placed around the temple on the outside which keeps a barrier to hold the death aura at bay."

Ruǎn yù playfully pushed Yìngyù away “So much for Mr. Endurance.”

Yìngyù sighed with a pained expression as Mei bruised his ego.

After Mei told the twin junior priestesses to take care of the temple in her absence, Ai reminded everyone that they shouldn’t waste any more time and that they should start heading out to look for Kǎi.

As the group sped off, the yellow sand particles scattered and made the waters cloudy.

Mei shivered and Yìngyù closed his eyes from discomfort due to the aura of death they sensed as they got closer to an area where there were many human corpses falling towards the seafloor. Then, suddenly both Mei and Yìngyù widened their eyes.

Qing who noticed their change in expression asked, “What is it?”

Yìngyù said “I sense something strong and not of the sea.”

Mei added “An extremely powerful aura. A divine one.”

Ai asked, “Could it be?”

Mei turned to Ai and said, “Most likely.”

As they got closer, they saw a pair of wings and silver hair. 

Everyone except for Ai and Mei widened their eyes and had their mouths open.

Ai couldn’t help but smirk at Ruǎn yù and Zhihao “See? Now do you guys believe me?”

Ruǎn yù and Zhihao both said “Uh… Uh-huh.”

Kǎi who had been absorbed in his task finally registered the familiar female voice as well as the unknown male voices behind him. He had not expected to see her again and was currently not in much of a mood to see her again. 

He used his wings to propel himself towards to Ai and said, “I thought I told you that this was my task and my task alone.”

Ai couldn’t help but feel like a scolded hatchling as she lowered her head out of awkwardness but then Ruǎn yù put a hand on Ai’s shoulder and intervened by saying “Well, Ai’s our friend and we all came here because we wanted to help her.”

Even though that may have not been the exact truth, Ai couldn’t help smiling when she heard Ruǎn yù say that.

Zhihao smirked and said “Besides, when Ai told us she saw an angel, we just had to come see.”

Kǎi frowned. There was something in that expression and attitude of Ai’s yellow-green eyed friend that irritated him.

Yìngyù placed a hand on Ai’s shoulder and said “I’m sure she understands that your task is very important, but she didn’t want you to shoulder it on your own. Your task is difficult for anyone to handle by themselves.”

Mei spoke up “Besides, this is our sea. We have to do our part to take care of it.”

Lín happily exclaimed “Yeah! There’s no way we can sit back and do nothing.”

Qing said “We’re all happy to help. Really.”

Kǎi exhaled through his nostrils as he closed his eyes. Were merpeople usually this pushy? When he reopened his eyes, he said “I suppose it would be impolite for me to send you back the way you came.”

Lín and the mermen closed their eyes, smiled, and replied in a playful tone “Of course. ~”

Kǎi narrowed his eyes. Were mermeople usually this brazen?

Soon Ai and her friends set off to work.

Yìngyù laid down his spear, touched a male corpse, then shuddered. “Ugh. Luckily our kind don’t leave any remains behind when the time comes.” 

Kǎi who was intrigued, looked over at the blonde merman near him, and said “Really? That’s right. The bodies of merpeople become seafoam when they reach their time just as the bodies of humans return to becoming dirt.”

Yìngyù looked thoughtful as he finally gathered the courage to hold the corpse’s legs and pull it towards Kǎi.

 “Interesting. But merpeople turn into seafoam quicker than it takes for humans to turn into dirt it seems. Speaking of which, you’re an angel right? What happens to your kind? You know, when the time comes.”

Kǎi answered “If we reach the end, all that remains of us is our souls. Our bodies turn into the air, so nothing remains of our body.”

“If? What do you mean by if?” Yìngyù laid the body on the seafloor.

“My kind is not bound by a lifespan. If our bodies receive considerable damage then we die, otherwise we’re practically immortal.”

Yìngyù nodded before swimming off to gather another corpse.

Suddenly, Kǎi got the feeling that a bunch of eyes were on him. When he looked behind him, Ai’s friends were bringing corpses towards him.

Lín was holding two human corpses by their waists while Ruǎn yù slung two corpses over his shoulders and held them by the legs. Ai and her other friends lifted their one corpse as they hooked their arms over the corpse’s underarms. He had to admit, he was impressed by the strength the merpeople had. Particularly, the brunettes.

He couldn’t help but smile a little as Ai headed his way.

“You have good friends.”

All this time, Ai had been beginning to believe that the angel was incapable of smiling but that subtle smile on his face was so… Endearing. Her heart began flutter at the sight, and she couldn’t help smiling brightly as she replied, “They’re the best.”