In the beginning, there is no sea witch. There is only Ione. This is her story.
The hard slap on her face was more painful than the scalding kiss of the molten rock which struck her arm.
Reeling from the force of the blow, Ione wobbled and would have fallen to the ocean floor if not for her echo, Jella. The short but sturdy tentacles of the six-inch gelatinous, transparent octopus braced themselves against her back and slowly stood her upright.
“I have you, Ione,” her echo’s voice drifted to her brain, linked to hers.
But her ordeal was far from over.
“Why do you insist on disobeying me, Ione?” Aquilla yelled, her eyes burning with fury. “Do you not respect me as your mother? I have told you many times not to fiddle with the Crocus, and you still do! Now you have even built this place without my knowledge!”
Her head reeling, Ione touched her hurting face. She was certain she will have a bruise tomorrow. Again.
She was no match for her mother’s strength, the Grand Dame of the Aquaean Keepers of the Crocus, a rare purple flowering plant which grew on land and perpetually supplied by their counterpart human Keepers to Aquosvegna, the Water Kingdom they belonged to. Ambrosia to all Aquaeans, the Crocus gave them youth, vitality and strength. It also amplified the innate abilities and magical powers of a few select Aquaeans in the royal line of the Originators. Most of all, it intensified the power of the King’s Trident.
“I-I was just trying out a recipe, Mother,” she murmured, her head hung low. “Surely, it isn’t against the Laws.”
“What did you say? A recipe?” Her mother practically hurled the word as if it was vomit. “That is a human word!”
Mortified at the slip of her tongue, Ione bit her lip. What punishment will her mother bestow upon her if she found out about the book? Trying not to panic, her eyes wandered around the scullery, past the broken clay pots, the chunks of red-hot magma, and the scattered purple flowers of the Crocus.
She inwardly breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jella sitting snugly over the book on the pearl table, its arms and body spread out like an umbrella, completely covering it.
“Do not fret, Ione. She will not find this book,” Jella’s voice again communicated through telepathy. She allowed herself a ghost of a smile, grateful for her loyal companion.
Her mother misinterpreted it, though, as yet another blow landed on her other cheek.
“You impertinent child!” Her harsh voice filled the secret, tiny place. “You spoke with Meredith, didn’t you? You know we do not speak to humans when we come ashore! We do not mingle with them and make friends. We only take what is rightfully ours, which is the Crocus! I should not have taken you to the human Keepers. From now on, Aimon will take Merleia in the Expeditions. You are to remain here with me as server for the royal household.”