Home > Oceanborn (The Aquarathi #2)

Oceanborn (The Aquarathi #2)
Amalie Howard

1

Glory and Pain

We are savage. We are proud. We are the dark rulers of the sea.

Deep in the ocean near the earth’s core, I survey the Aquarathi people—a firestorm of color—as the four courts pay homage to their new queen. Closest to me, the Gold Court stands quietly proud. The Sapphire Court is flamboyant in their tribute. The Emerald Court, more demure. But the Ruby Court, I watch with silent, cautious eyes. Months before, they supported a rival queen in her bid against the High Court, and she almost won.

Almost.

The great hall of Waterfell is deep and cavernous, with cobbled golden stalactites and stalagmites spanning its entire length to meet in the middle like majestic columns. In the human world, I learned about the marble pillars of the ancient Greeks. Ours remind me of the pictures I saw of theirs, only the ones around me are far older and more forbidding. The floor glitters with all manner of earthly minerals, reflecting off our bodies like prisms.

Today we celebrate my coronation as heir to the High Court. In Aquarathi society, it’s a pivotal milestone, one made even more momentous by the fact that my father—the last king—is dead. If he were alive, years from now he would be the one to transfer the proverbial baton to me. The endorsement from one ruler to another is a vital piece of our tradition. An Aquarathi coronation isn’t the same as humans might expect from what they know of royalty in the media, but power is passed from the old monarch to the new one in a ritual that’s just as significant.

Aivana, which translates into the human language as beautiful flower, refers to an ancient Aquarathi practice. Like Sanctum, it is a gift born to those of royal blood. In our world, when kings or queens die, they can bequeath their power, should they so choose, to a next of kin. Aivana is not only a transfer of Aquarathi energy from one ruler to the next; it’s a transfer of trust—a blessing of sorts from the old to the new.

In a parallel world, my father would be alive and standing at my side. I can picture his face, silvery blue and radiant with pride. Everyone would watch with bated breath as he touched his nose to mine and bent his forehead to rest directly upon my brow. We would both glow so brightly that the light would extinguish all colors save ours. Together, we would bestow Sanctum—an ancient Aquarathi practice used by royals to strengthen our people—to everyone in the room, reminding them of our strength and our love. Eventually his bioluminescence would fade, merging into mine and signaling the rise of a new ruler.

But my father isn’t here, and there’s no one to pass along a crown to make this any easier or to make the Aquarathi immediately accept me. I am alone. And I am already a queen. My coronation is but an afterthought. My people watch me in expectant silence, crowding into the great hall of Waterfell like silent luminescent candles flickering in a body of water. A shiver winds through me as I study their faces—my fledgling rule has already raised questions and a near-royal coup. I’ve had to earn their approval. I still have to.

I wish I were back in La Jolla.

The thought is errant. And cowardly. I am Aquarathi, not human. And I belong here. I know that. But the truth is, I miss being human—playing hockey and surfing, lunches in the quad, hanging out with my best friend, Jenna. Being human. But I’m not just a girl. I’m part of an alien marine species living on this planet, and my place is in the ocean, not landside.

I almost smile, remembering snippets of a conversation I had with Jenna during one of our sunny lunches in the Dover Prep courtyard, a couple weeks after I’d revealed what I was to her.

“So, do you live in a giant underwater castle? You know, like Ariel?”

I snorted soda through my nose at the Disney reference. “Um, no. There are no underwater castles in the ocean, Jenna, and I definitely don’t sit on rocks grooming my hair in the sunlight waiting to be rescued by Prince Eric...even though he is kind of dreamy.”

Jenna grinned. “Well, now that you’ve gone and dashed all my childhood ideals, enlighten me.”

“Disney version or Jeopardy version?”

“Jeopardy.”

“We live in underwater caves. We hunt, we sleep, we reproduce and we work. As a species, think of us as a cross between whales, dolphins and wolves. No castles, no tea parties, just the occasional sushi brunch. We’re just like any other sea creature living in pods...pretty boring really.”

“Don’t you have an economic or political structure?”

“An economy of what? Trading in plankton? Our political structure is divided into four courts, as you know, with one high court. Unlike most humans,” I said with a grin, “we are a very simple species.”

“I don’t get it. I mean, you’re so evolved. Intelligent.”

“Why? Intelligence is measured in different ways, not necessarily according to human standards or human categories. For us, it’s about self-awareness. We exist within the parameters of our world, within our social and cultural structures, living as one with the environment. We don’t belong up here, involved in politics and MTV and wireless Internet. A killer whale doesn’t just get up and say, ‘I want to play some video games and maybe try using a fork,’ and neither would any Aquarathi. It doesn’t make us any less intelligent.”

“Yes, but you can transform to be like us. Human.”

“Not all of us. Most Aquarathi can only exist in human form if they’re in close proximity to me. It’s not our natural state.”

She stared at me as if I were an imbecile missing the big picture. “Still, for argument’s sake, think of what you could do if you did—I mean you could be a part of the government instead of working policy change from the sidelines. You could make sure we don’t do anything to jeopardize your species. You could play an active part. I mean, more than you already do in secret, and you wouldn’t have to hide.”

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