Rayan patted the air bubbles with his hand.
The round air bubble popped and flew away with the force of the push as it regained its shape.
Another bubble of air flashed past him as if following him.

“You said you were watching.”

“So are you watching?”

As he murmured his dissatisfaction, Asha, who had easily overtaken Rayan’s with just a light gesture, answered with a languid smile.
Rayan, who licked his lips, sprawled his body on the flat rock.
His hair swayed and fluttered.
Asha could be seen through his swaying hair.

“Why doesn’t the little mermaid feel good?”

“… ”

“It’s the day you go to see the human you like so much.”

“That’s…”

Rayan hesitated for a moment to answer.
For some reason, he felt that the reason for it was so poor.

“Rayan.”

“I…”

“If you speak so quietly, I won’t even understand, no matter how good my ears are.”

“I think Erich is too busy these days.”

His face flushed with embarrassment as he spoke, but it was true.
At some point, the days he met Erich decreased.
What used to be once every two days became once every three days or once every four days.
Besides, Rayan had to be a little more restrained when Alle watched over him suspiciously, so there weren’t many days.

“Maybe he has other friends?”

“He’s a human, so he’d be more comfortable with a human than with a mermaid.”

Asha must have said it without much thought, but Rayan was unable to speak any further because his speech was choked.
But it wasn’t entirely wrong.
Unlike Rayan, whom he could only meet for a limited time, he might be more comfortable and affinitive with other humans who he could meet anytime.

“··· yan.”

“…”

“Rayan.”

“Ah.”

After repeated calls, Rayan managed to clear his bewildered expression.

“Why? Is it strange?”

“No… No, yes.
I think it’s weird.
I also have Ayla, Alle, Yuri, and now Asha, so it’s not at all strange that he has other friends besides Rayan, but it felt unusual.”

When said that to him, Asha’s expression, which had been showing a languid smile the whole time, became subtle.
He smiled, but it didn’t seem like he was smiling.

“Friend?”

“Yes.”

“Me?”

Rayan, who said yes and affirmed once more, came to realization belatedly.

“No.
Asha is not a friend….”

After denying it, Rayan soon ran into trouble.
Come to think of it, he never thought of what words to define him with.
Since he came into contact with him two years ago, he had been telling him the stories of the outside world, sometimes even sharing his daily life miscellaneously.

“Ummm… then a benefactor?”

The story of the witch of the Black Sea had been around for hundreds of years, so Asha must have been alive for that many years, and if so, Rayan, who was only 50 years old, was a far cry compared to him.
It would be tricky to say he was a friend for sure.

In any case, it was true that Asha saved him from the shark crisis, so when he barely squeezed those words out and looked at him, Asha lost his subtle expression and burst into laughter.
His purple eyes narrowed.
In a way, he seemed jovial, or even sardonic.
He had a cold face, so it was difficult to guess how he was feeling.

“Come to think of it, I realized this young mermaid isn’t trembling anymore every time he comes to the Black Sea.”

“That’s because Asha is there…”

All other species were scary, not to mention the kelpie or the sea serpent, Rayan still feared sharks the most.
When crossing the border of the Black Sea, whenever he met the shark’s yellow eyes, he hesitated, resisting the desire to step back because he had Asha.
As long as Asha was there, he would be safe.

In fact, even when Rayan went to see Erich without Alle, he was not nervous or wary of his surroundings.

“It’s not a good habit to trust someone like that.”

“Yes?”

“Nothing.”

Still, Rayan, who was certainly feeling less nervous these days when entering the Black Sea, couldn’t hear him mutter.
Asha shook his head when he asked with his eyes wide open.

“By the way, didn’t you say today is the date of your guardian’s return?”

“Ah!”

Rayan’s entry and exit into the Black Sea was also a secret to Alle.
Alle, who was usually gentle, had been nagging him these days, lamenting that he might die of distress rather than of old age.

“I have to go.”

And in the evening he had to go see Erich, so he had to sleep.
Rayan was much more sleepy than before so he needed some time to sleep.

“I’ll come again.”

Rayan wiggled his tail and stuck it out.
Asha, who was staring at him, entwined his tail with a puzzled expression on his face.
Rayan smiled and waved his hand to bid his farewell, and then hurried back.

***

“Rayan, tell me.
What have you been doing while I was away?”

Alle questioned him with a very skeptical look as they left Atisa together in the evening to go to the surface.
Rayan replied, looking straight ahead so that his eyes would not meet his.

“I was just hanging out with Ayla or staying in the palace.”

He did play with Ayla.
For a very short time, though.
Ayla, who came to see him in the midst of her busy schedule, complained about why it was so difficult to see him these days.

“Ayla says she wasn’t able to see you at all these days.”

“… ”

“Rayan?”

“I just went around every corner of Atisa.
It’s a little uncomfortable to be in the palace these days.”

Alle, who was urging for an answer, didn’t say anything this time.
Not long ago, he ran into Mer at the palace, Mer spoke only to Alle and did not speak to Rayan.
He hadn’t met Rayan, aside from the simple greetings.
Rayan was fine, but Alle was restless.

“Oh, we’ll be there soon.”

In the end, Alle left aside the question he had been asking and turned away.
Although he was expecting this kind of reaction, he felt a little sorry because Alle seemed to care much more than he had thought.

“Yes.
But Alle.
Aren’t you shapeshifting?”

“I’ll call you while resting nearby, so go by yourself.”

“Really?”

“If I ever have to face that person, I will do nothing but fight.”

Oh.
Rayan had nothing else to say.
Even in Rayan’s eyes, the two didn’t get along very well.
They didn’t try to make it obvious, but it was evident.
And their conflict was mainly about Rayan.

“See you.”

“Yes.”

“And give that person a mouthful… never mind.
Never mind.”

But even if they didn’t get along like that, they went together whenever they could.
It was evident that he was being considerate of Rayan because of what had happened a few days ago.
Rayan nodded his head broadly.

Whenever he went to see Erich, the conversation was different depending on whether Alle was with him or not.
There was very little leeway for what could be done.
Alle was reluctant to let Rayan breathe into Erhart to show him around the sea.

When the beauty of the sea was shown to humans, they didn’t admire it, they just covet it.
The tragedy of hundreds of years ago was caused by that greed.
Knowing how much Rayan liked Erich, he didn’t say it outright, and beat around the bush instead, but in the end, the meaning was clear.

However, Rayan wanted to show Erich the beauty of his world again.
Including even Atisa, if the circumstances permitted it.
Atisa was the most beautiful place in the world.
It was clear that Erich would also be fascinated.

It would be nice if he was a mermaid too.

“What are you doing with your eyes open?”

It would be nice to share all their daily lives while touring the deep sea together, and often look secretly around the Surface World.

“Rayan.”

As he was looking at Erich with his eyes wide open, Erich, who had been waiting for him in advance, closed the book he was reading and extended his hand to Rayan.

“Are you mad?”

“Because Erich is a liar.”

Two days ago, he came on the promised day, and Erich, who should have been there, was nowhere to be found and he had to go back after seeing the brief note he left.
Rayan complained, sticking his lips out.

“You’re making ducky lips again.”

“… ”

“You said sometimes you have to be tolerant of small, young humans, right?”

“That’s true.”

He agreed, but somehow he felt like he was falling for Erich’s wit.
Anyway, instead of peeking his eyes out and looking at him, Rayan wiggled his tail, came closer and grabbed his outstretched hand.
His body was pulled up and touched the rock.
Sitting across, Rayan glanced at the book he was reading.

“What is that?”

“The book I brought to teach you?”

“…”

“Seeing that expression, I guess I can’t even joke about it.”

“Do not lie.”

Rayan grumbled.

“Do you hate studying so much?”

“It’s difficult.”

“You learned well at that time.”

Was it a year ago? Rayan had to learn a little bit of human writing from him.
The reason wasn’t that important.
They decided to leave a mark when they couldn’t meet on the day they promised, but it was because the languages ​​they spoke were different.
Rayan, unable to read the memo that Erhart had left, waited until dawn and was caught by Alle and could not come out of Atisa for a long time, and Erhart declared that it would be good to learn each other’s languages.

The problem was that he couldn’t learn the mermaid’s language.
It wasn’t because the mermaid’s language was difficult, but Rayan wasn’t a good teacher.

‘Why don’t you know this? Erich, are you a dummy?’

Rayan had learned it immediately from birth, and he did not understand why Erhart could not learn it at once, and after quarreling for a long time, they reached an agreement for Rayan to learn human language in the end.
Unlike Rayan, who tried to insist on it but was not good at teaching, Erhart taught well.

However, Rayan, who came to play with Erich, not to learn anything, refused to learn further after he had roughly understood a few sentences.

“I’m not going to study any more.”

After all, the language of the outside world was for nothing other than communicating with Erich in this way.
When Rayan insisted on it, Erich sighed and wiped his chin.

“But I had a place to show you this full moon.”

“What is it?”

“That… oh, that guardian of yours, hasn’t he come yet?”

Erich licked his lips and immediately looked for Alle.
Erich didn’t like Alle just as much as Alle didn’t like Erich, so his expression wasn’t very good.
As his friend and his guardian, it would be nice to be close to each other, but Rayan couldn’t understand why they were so fussy.

“No.
Alle came with me, but he’s somewhere else.”

“He isn’t hiding around here and watching, is he?”

“Alle wouldn’t do that.”

“… ”

“Tell me.
What is it? What is it? Where are you going to take me?”

Erich, who looked around more with a distasteful glance, came closer to Rayan.
His breath touched his ear and tickled him.
Rayan’s eyes widened as he shuddered at the tickling sensation.

“A festival?”

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