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Cilia was a mermaid of the Atlantic Kingdom. Her long curly hair was of a light brown, sparkling golden when the sun far above the surface passed over the clear blue sky and the light touched her. Her fin was of a light blue like the sky above her. But at night when the starlight shone her fin shimmered silver. Cilia was kissed by the ocean and the starlight. And so were her eyes that were blue at day and with a glimmer of the stars‘ sparkle at night. Cilia and her family did not live in the great city of Atlantis, the capital of the merpeople of the Atlantic Kingdom, but further South in a quiet village named Celein which was famous for its coral gardens.

 Mermaids and mermen, no matter what kingdom or fin colour they belonged to, were the protectors of corals in the ocean. They were the lungs of the ocean, they connected all seven merpeople kingdoms with each other. Corals were shelter for fish and other animals, they were food for mermaids and, although mermaids ate the younger branches of corals, their core structures were never touched, so they would always be able to continue their growth and thrive. The life of corals was deeply tied to the life and culture of all merpeople. The corals‘ lives were bound to the merpeople and the merpeope’s lives were bound to the corals. Most importantly, they treasured the memory of the oceans. When mermaids sang to corals, in high clear tones, it was as beautiful as the rising sun, as powerful as crushing waves and as peaceful as a calm day by the beach. The corals would grow rapidly and from time to time whisper to the mermaids. They could tell them secrets of the past, long forgotten memories even too ancient for mermaids to remember. They whispered tales of a time when the ocean was still a very dangerous place filled with creatures of the night and monsters of the deep. Back then the mermaids and the water dragons were close friends. The mermaids and the dragons defeated their enemies side by side. The corals would describe the majestic appearance of these giant blue serpents that were long gone now. They could breath water and blue fire, a fire that was so hot it burned under water. They created waves with their wings so big they would wash everything away. Their scales shone in all shades of blue, green and purple, some of them even glowed like the northern lights or like starlight itself. They were ancient beings full of wisdom and knowledge. But then, some of them went to sleep and disappeared on the ocean floor and others were drawn towards the stars and the northern lights and vanished within their light.

Cilia’s family was an old one. The family’s name was Oreyan, much respected throughout the Atlantic. They were famous for the corals that would whisper to them and the family made it their tradition to write down the stories they were told. One of Cilia’s ancestors, named Io, wrote down the founding story of the Atlantic Kingdom that was whispered to her by a dark blue coral. The coral told her that once there were two kingdoms. One in the South and one in the North. In the South the merpeople worshipped the starlight and learned the magic of the stars which treasured memory and ancient knowledge of magic. Just like corals could treasure memory. Over time their fins became silver like the stars above them. In the North, the merpeople worshipped the moon and the tides and learned how to control the water around them. They became strong warriors. Over time their fins became blue like the water which was their source of power. Both kingdoms, so different in their ways of life, soon grew hostile to one another and started to fight each other. Every battle ended undecided, for the merpeople in the South were very clever and the stars were guiding them and the merpeople in the North were very strong and the tides were always on their side. They were evenly matched. So they kept on fighting each other, soon forgetting why they actually started fighting. One day, when both the starlight and the moonlight shone into the ocean, a mermaid of the South and a merman of the North met by a blue coral. But they did not fight one another. They looked into each other’s eyes, blue and silver and here by this coral they fell in love with each other. A year later a child of the ocean, a girl, was born that had a blue fin like the ocean and silver eyes like the starlight. The girl’s magical powers developed to be stronger and more powerful than any of the Southern or Northern merpeople. When she was just seventeen years old she realised that the fighting was futile and unleashed her magical starlight power and the power of the tides so that all the merpeople would listen to her. She founded a new kingdom, where Southerners and Northerners could live in peace and harmony, learn from each other and most importantly fall in love with each other like her parents did. And so the Atlantic Kingdom was founded, blue and silver brought together as one by a young Queen.

This long forgotten tale was shared by the Oreyan family throughout the Atlantic. Soon this coral’s tale became a national treasure, a rediscovery of the past.  For generations to come, the Oreyan family discovered more stories of the past because of their beautiful singing voices which were passed down from parents to children. Every generation added new songs and new melodies to the particular time they were living in. Their voices and the stories of the corals that were told to them became beacons of hope in a wide and sometimes dangerous world within the ocean. Cilia’s parents developed the most beautiful singing voices in their youth. Her father and mother created enchanting melodies. And this gift they passed on to their daughter. Cilia turned out to be the best singer in her village at the age of only seventeen. Her grandmother, Agea, who was 298 years old, told Cilia that she was a gift from the ocean and the starlight because with her voice she would bring life to corals for generations to come. Agea had a silver fin and dark blue eyes. Her hair had turned white a long time ago but it used to be curly brown just like Cilia’s. Her granddaughter loved to listen to Agea’s stories because in her long life she had visited all the seven kingdoms of the merpeople.

Cilia had only visited the Venezea Kingdom in the east. It was the smallest of the seven kingdoms but produced the fiercest and strongest warriors of all seven seas. Cilia went there with her mother Talia to visit her aunt who lived in a beautiful and ancient city named Korat. The fins of the merpeople of the Venezea Kingdom were green because of all the sea plants and the green corals they sung to there. In exchange for their singing and protection the merpeople received the colour green for their fins and that colour made them stronger.

In Korat, Cilia and her mother, who had an aquamarine fin, visited Cilia’s aunt. Her mother, Talia had not seen her sister in a long time and wanted to show her daughter the beautiful city of Korat. The one thing she really wanted her to see was her grandfather’s grave who was buried in Korat, as he was a merman of the Venezea Kingdom. Cilia’s grandmother though, was a mermaid of the Atlantic. It didn’t happen very often that merpeople of different kingdoms fell in love with each other because every culture is so different, but when it did happen, their love inspired all merpeople. Cilia’s mother, once told her that her own singing voice and Cilia’s voice were of such special beauty because they shared history and love from two merpeople kingdoms. Mother and daughter sat in front of the grave of their father and grandfather who dared what seldom any other merman dared to do. He fell in love with a mermaid from a different kingdom.

“Where do you think he is now?“ Cilia asked her mother.

“Well, you know the stories of the merpeople. When we die we become one with the ocean, the moon, the starlight and the sunlight.“

“Yes, but that is so far away and we merpeople, who are so small, can we really transform into something so big like moonlight or sunlight?“

Talia looked at her daughter with her bright green eyes. She had inherited that eye colour from her father. She asked herself when her daughter had become so wise.

 “Where do you think we go?“ she asked with a smile.

“I think we go somewhere much closer. Somewhere where we are close to the ones we loved while we were alive.“

 Cilia pointed at the light green coral that was growing on her grandfather’s grave.

“I think when we die some part of us also lives on within the corals of the ocean. How else would they know so much about the merpeople history and whisper to us and why else are we so good at understanding them?“

Talia smiled at her daughter and nodded. She liked that idea, that their loved ones are not far away within the light of sun, stars and moon but close by, never really gone.  

One day, the sun’s rays glittered down into the ocean. Cilia and her grandmother were sitting side by side in one of their coral gardens in their village in Celein. In this one, there were silver and blue corals with long thin branches growing towards the surface. Agea and Cilia were discussing the behaviours of corals, sometimes pausing and singing to the corals and watching them grow when suddenly a dark shadow moved across the surface leaving a foul smell in the water behind. Cilia and her grandmother looked up. The silver shadows had been passing their villages and cities for over a hundred years now. Before that time, the shadows were smaller and moved slower and did not smell so bad. The merpeople knew that those dark shadows belonged to the strange walkers on land. In appearance they were not unlike the merpeople but they lacked in fins and gills. Instead they had two larger versions of arms. They hopped around on them above the surface. Their movements seemed not as flowing and smooth as the movement of a mermaid or a merman. At times, they almost appeared to be helpless when they walked on land. Besides, they were not in harmony with nature like the merpeople were. Instead of living with nature they were living against it. Cilia did not like them but her grandmother had told her that they were living far more difficult lives than merpeople did. They could only reach the age of about seventy or eighty years, by which time a mermaid would be living the best years of her life. And the biggest difference was that they did not receive the magical gifts of nature. They were unable to bend water. The ocean did not grant them this gift. They were unable to control fire and heat. The sun did not grant them this gift. They were unable to see all the mysteries of the moonlight, the starlight, the northern lights, as the merpeople were able to. Nature did not grant them these gifts.

“I am sorry for them.“ Cilia’s grandmother said as she looked at the passing shadow above her.

“What are they like? The strange walkers. What do they do?“ Cilia asked.

She had never seen something so alien. 

“I have a good friend in the Southern Kingdom…“ Her grandmother explained. “He performed a spell that enabled him to look like a strange walker so he could walk among them and see what they do on land. It is a sad place. They build all sorts of unnatural things that make their lives more difficult and not easier. They are a greedy people and very often destroy and kill each other. And they have their own corals which they call treesbut often they kill them too. They burn them to obtain energy. As I said, I pity them. The sun is merciless on them. The sun does not help them like she helps us. As you know we cannot only bend the magic of the moon but also bend the sunlight which enables us to capture her heavenly fire to keep us warm in the night and darkness.“

“And they don’t sing?“

“They can sing. One time, I swam to the surface and there was one of their shadows in the middle of the ocean. I heard them sing and some of them moved to the music in a funny way for which I really don’t have any words to describe. You would have to see it. But surprisingly, it looked quite beautiful. I think they are torn between darkness and light.“

“What are the dark shadows made out off?“

“Some of them are made out of their trees. They killed them and created their lifeless shadows that transport them across the water. Others are made out of a substance harder than stone but I have only seen a few of them.“

Cilia gazed at the clear surface above her and suddenly there came another. It was bigger than all the others she had ever seen.

“That one looks like as if it was made out of that substance!“ Her grandmother said.

It looked like smooth stone and shimmered silver. Similar like to grandmother’s fin but an unnatural colour. Without any sign of life, it just moved on the surface. But there was something else. It was dropping something. Little objects in all sorts of bright colours.

“Look! What is that?“ Cilia shouted and swam towards it, her grandmother following her.

When she reached the spot where the shadow had dropped the objects she could feel how her gills breathed in something poisonous.

“Wait!“ Her grandmother pulled her away.

“What is it?“ Cilia said.

 She looked at the objects that were floating and gliding towards the bottom of the ocean.

“I have heard of this.“ Her grandmother was very concerned. “This is the waste of the strangers. They create unnatural things and when they don’t need them anymore they throw them away. Your great uncle who lives west by the coast has seen much more of this. They sicken the animals and sometimes even our corals.“

“But why do they do that?“

“Because they do not know what they are doing.“

Cilia’s grandmother started coughing. Her gills opened and closed uncontrollably.

“Take me back home please.“ She said and they swam back to the village.

The next day Cilia looked for the waste of the strangers but it was gone. The current must have carried it away. But once every week a dark shadow would be seen dropping the waste of strangers. It would then linger for a time and after a while it disappeared in the wide ocean.

One morning, Cilia and her family got news from the capital. In the kingdom of the Venezea Sea merpeople and corals were suffering from whatever it was the strangers were dumping in the ocean. A sickness was spreading. They received the same bad news from the merpeople in the other kingdoms. It happened in the Alaskanta Sea, the Strala Sea, the Aklohoro Sea, the Aquorsia Sea and even in the Vert Sea which was known for its clearest of water. And soon the sickness spread throughout the Atlantic as well. All seven kingdoms were suffering from the waste of the strangers. They got sick and weaker and so did all the corals. And one dark day some corals started to lose their colour until they turned ghostly white, died and crumbled onto the ocean floor.

Cilia was inspecting one of her coral gardens when she could see how her grandmother was talking to a dolphin friend. She nodded sadly and the normally cheerful dolphin had a sad expression in his eyes. He swam away and Agea turned to her granddaughter.

“What is it?“ Cilia asked worried.

“The dolphin just brought news from the Venezea Sea. A merman has died. He got sick from all the waste, became weaker and then just passed away.“

Her grandmother’s normally dark blue shining eyes appeared grey in the face of changing times.

Then they got the news that the kings and queens of the seven kingdoms had decided to send floods, hurricanes and storms to the places the strange walkers were living. But there was no change. Some more merpeople died and many more corals passed away.

More and more waste of the strangers appeared in the oceans and all merpeople were trying to heal everyone who got ill. While an animal showed signs of weakness when it got sick, with a coral, it happened from one day to the other without a warning. It would look healthy and full of colour, then the next day it would  look weaker and not as bright anymore and over night, it would lose all its colour. Then the coral was dead.

Cilia’s grandmother did not feel that well. Of course, she wasn’t the youngest anymore but her coughing got worse and a sickness started to grow inside of her and the family knew it was the waste of the strangers that made her sick. Soon she was too weak to swim. Agea lay down on her sponge bed and looked at her granddaughter and daughter. Talia handed her some seaweed to eat. “It will give you strength. I added a spell of sunlight and ocean current to it. It tastes very good.“

Her daughter smiled at her with her bright green eyes.

“Thank you.“ Agea said and smiled at her daughter. Then she turned to her granddaughter and said “My darling starfish, I think, as long as I am feeling weak, you should take care of my coral garden.“

“Of course I will!“ Cilia said and felt very honoured.

Her grandmother’s coral garden was the most beautiful in the entire village. Her corals were silver, blue, dark red with some yellow ones almost golden, shining in between. They grew in spiral structures towards the surface, gracefully reaching out for sunlight. The coral garden reflected Agea’s beauty, elegance and wisdom.

 From now onwards, Cilia would eat every morning with her grandmother and then look after her coral garden and her own coral garden as well. Cilia’s coral garden was quite different than her grandmother’s. Most of her corals were silver with some dark blue ones and light blue ones in between. They grew in a cylindrical structure towards the surface. And in the middle stood a large beautiful sand coloured coral. Somehow her own corals were still quite strong. There was no sickness that befell them, whereas other corals in her village were already suffering.

A day later a dark red coral in her grandmother’s garden became sick. So Cilia sang to the weakened coral like she had sung to her own ones. But the next day the coral looked even worse and some others around her started to look ill as well. Cilia became desperate and cursed the strange walkers above the surface.

“What are you doing my starfish?“ Her grandmother had come out of her blue stone house still looking weak. “I wanted to see how you are getting along with my corals.“

“I am afraid my singing is not of any help. They are getting sick. It is the strange walkers and their unnatural ways.“

“That is true. But you see, I tend to my corals in a different way than you do. You have a high and clear voice, like the sun itself, whereas I sing with a lower tone coming deep down from my lungs. Let me show you.“ 

Agea sung a slow and beautiful melody. Cilia imitated her and created her own interpretation of her grandmother’s song.

“Very good! Look, it seems they like it.“ Her grandmother said and pointed at her dark red coral already looking stronger.

“Now help me get back to bed please. I am feeling a little bit tired again.“

Cilia nodded and took her by the arm.

In the next couple of days, her grandmother didn’t get any better but also not any worse. Agea taught her granddaughter and her daughter some more melodies. Cilia adapted her grandmother’s songs and created very similar yet individual tunes. Her mother managed to sing a beautiful melody, one that captured her daughter’s style and her mother’s. Cilia continued to sing to her grandmother’s corals who were getting stronger every day. Cilia hoped that they could defeat the plague the strange walkers had brought upon them after all.

A week had passed and Cilia’s grandmother could not get out of bed anymore. But her coral garden looked more beautiful than ever. Cilia’s coral garden had grown a lot too. She had combined some of her grandmother’s melodies with her own ones and her corals responded to them with growth and strength. And Talia’s coral garden had grown as well. Her corals were yellow, blue and dark blue that were now shining so bright it seemed they reflected the sparkling surface above it. But despite the growth, Talia and the rest of the villagers could sense that Agea’s time in the sea had come to an end. The strange walkers‘ sickness combined with her old age had weakened her too much.

“Cilia, I think we have to say good bye soon.“ Talia said to her daughter. It took her a great deal of strength to say that. She knew how much they loved each other and how close all three of them had grown recently.

“I am not ready. I don’t want her to go.“

“I know.“ Talia said and with her next words she tried to speak with wisdom, like Agea had so many times. “But this is the way of things.“

“No, it is not! The strange walkers made her sick. She could have lived so much longer. I will find a way to cure her.“ Cilia said desperately.

But Cilia knew that her mother only wanted to prepare for what was to come. She was right. This was the way of things. Merpeople with all their magic and wonders they worked, their bodies had to face mortality in the end like any other living being of the ocean. And Agea would be the first one to agree.

Agea had one last wish. She wanted to sing to her corals one last time. So Cilia and Talia helped her up and sat down with her in the coral garden surrounded by silver, blue, dark red and yellow colours.

“Help me sing my melody Cilia.“

But Cilia’s mind was somewhere else. She remembered her grandfather’s grave and the coral that grew out of it. Suddenly, she had an idea. She had to try. Out of her mouth came a tone unlike any other, a melody that carried her young and hopeful spirit into the ocean. It was first very quiet, almost silent. Then it grew louder and became as elegant as the prettiest coral, as unbending as the biggest wave and as mysterious as the deepest sea canyon filled with magic. Her mother and her grandmother looked at her, then mother and daughter looked at each other, understanding what the young mermaid’s melody was about and joined her. They all smiled at each other one last time. The melody was carried through the village and every merman and mermaid stopped what they were doing and swam to Agea’s coral garden. There they were sitting, three generations of mermaids singing a melody of hope and future. Suddenly, the corals around Agea grew towards her. She stopped singing and just smiled at her daughter and granddaughter. Talia and Cilia realised that the spell was working and kept on singing louder. Cilia was not sure for a moment if it would actually work but her grandmother looked at her encouragingly so she kept on singing, hoping. The corals grew around her grandmother and embraced her gently like an old friend would. Until Talia and Cilia could not sense whether they were holding on to a mermaid or a coral. They created something new. Something more than coral or mermaid. Her mortal body and the corals had transformed, a colour no creature of the ocean had ever seen before. It was dark red at its core but its branches were pink and silver, somehow radiating a light that was beyond description you could only sense it. It was the spirit of the ocean. This new coral was elegant and enchanting, its branches kindly reaching out, as if it would want to protect the other corals. When Cilia’s grandmother had completely transformed, mother and daughter ended their song and embraced each other. And as if this new creation of life protected the village from the strange walkers‘ plague, no coral, no mermaid and no merman fell ever ill again.

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