I breached the surface with a gasp, dimming my glow as my energy waned. I swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out. I kept my light low, illuminating the area around me as I went deeper into the cave. The pool where the vision had played out was silent and dark now. The dense blackness swallowed every noise except for the dripping of water from the slick stones above. My senses heightened, putting a strain on my already exhausted mind.
Worn down from all I had experienced during the ordeal in the pool, I walked slowly, using my last vestiges of energy to provide a guiding light. I searched for a while before I came across a small, dank alcove dug into the cavern wall. Turning to look in the nook, I saw him. The king.
“Finally!” I sighed as I saw the body of the king propped up against the partition of the cave. It was a body in the loosest sense of the word. All that remained of the once brash and arrogant ruler was a pile of broken and molding bones, swaddled in the tattered rags of what he had worn in his final hours. In the dim light of my glow, his frozen form held a look of horror. His jaws were contorted in a way that evidenced the terrible death he suffered.
My eyes were drawn to the skeletal claws of his hands. His left, raised to the level of his eyes as if guarding his face, held the slightly tarnished but still beautiful pearl. I smiled in relief. My smile grew as a gleam of metal reflected in the slowly faltering glow of my light. Turning my attention to that glint, I saw one of the most vicious weapons I had ever seen. The handle of the blade was smooth, almost like bone. The blade itself was a vicious shape, alternating directions in a zig-zag pattern reminiscent of a kris, which was fitting of the era. I pried the pearl out of his brittle hands. The bones disintegrated and fell at my feet. The dagger came free as easily.
I turned to leave as a cool breeze blew through the cave with a haunting howl, sending a violent shudder through me. The curse. The curse is now mine to bear, I thought as I made my way back up and out of the cavern. Being in a dark and cool environment was nothing unusual for me. But with the last few days of trials, worry, and extraneous efforts without having a chance to recharge, my energy was nearly depleted by the time I appeared topside.
Artemis ran up and took me in an extended embrace, looking me up and down. “Seli! Why are you so wet? Are you ok?” She searched my face as a wave of exhaustion rolled over me, and I sat down hard, nearly collapsing onto a nearby boulder. “Seli, love? What is it? What did you see?”
I held out the dagger and pearl without breaking eye contact with her. “Here, you must return this pearl to its rightful owner. The Sea Queen.”
“Ok, that doesn’t sound hard. And the dagger?” She wiped her thumb across my cheek with tenderness as I looked at the blade in my hand. I had been trying to gauge the connection between the knife and the pearl since I heard the curse.
“The pearl, it’s cursed,” I said as realization of the connection between the dagger, the pearl, and the curse played on my mind. A single tear escaped me, rolling down my face.
“Seli, why are you crying? What aren’t you telling me?” Artemis asked, wiping the stray tear with her thumb. I turned to face her, and we hugged. Stroking my back, she asked again, “You can tell me, whatever it is, we’ll figure it out.”
Placing the items together on one hand, I relayed the scenes I had witnessed from the pool in as many details as I could. “This pearl belongs to the ancient Sea Queen, she was killed for it and by none other than her lover, on their wedding day. He stole the pearl from her crown.” Artemis listened intently, nodding every once in a while.
“The pearl…,” I stopped, trying to find the right words to explain this part. Artemis prodded me to go on. “The curse on the pearl cannot be broken until it is returned to the Sea Queen’s crown.”
“What curse does the pearl hold?” she asked softly.
“Anyone who acquires the pearl will die. The Sea Queen laid this curse on the pearl, her lover died from it.” I searched her face for comprehension, not knowing if I could say the words.
A clarity raced behind her eyes as she realized how her challenge was connected to mine. She sighed once deeply before her tracker persona emerged. “Did your visions tell you where I can find the Sea Queen or her crown to return the pearl?”
My eyebrows crinkled as I tried to replay the scenes from the vision. I remembered seeing the crown shatter into pieces as the king discarded it. My eyes had followed him as the queen called out the curse. I forced myself to remember what she’d done with the broken crown. The last I saw of her was her lifeless form on the ground.
Wait! The place where she fell…was that a seabed?
“I saw the Sea Queen breathe her last on a seabed,” I said, looking ahead at the beach. “She was holding the broken crown.”
Artemis nodded, trying to comprehend the depth of her challenge. She would have to go to the bottom of the ocean and find the Sea Queen and her crown.
“Your mortal form will not be able to carry you to the bottom of the ocean to replace the pearl, Akti,” I said as I placed the gem in her hands along with the dagger. “Which means…oh, Akti,” I cried, pulling her into an intimate hug. “I cannot even say the vile words.”
She leaned into the embrace, holding me so tight it rivaled my titan strength. “I understand now. But I have to. For Sayeh.” She pulled back and met my gaze as we both shed silent tears.
Artemis held the dagger up in her right hand, studying it for a moment before turning back to face me. “I’ll be ok, Seli. We’re immortal, remember?” She cupped my face, trying to reassure me. But knowing her as intimately as I did, I knew she was anxious, too.