The reef of Iconic was one of the oldest reefs in the ocean of Arcadia. It used to be Poseidon’s pride jewel. He built a beautiful palace at the very center of the reef, a tribute to his ownership of the ocean after Proteus when Zeus supplanted him in the aftermath of his victory over Cronus. The palace reflected the palaces of the land and sky, because Poseidon wanted to show off his connection to these two entities as a god, an honour none of his subjects could even dream of.
A century later Poseidon handed over the ownership of Iconic to his son Triton, amidst a large gathering of gods, demigods, merpeople and every sea creature alive in the seven seas. It was a royal event in every sense. The gods and demigods were seated in glittering shells, breathing out strings of bubbles. The gods of the land and sky having consumed the concoction presented by Circe, made especially for this occasion, were enchanted by the beauty of the deep ocean. They ate, drank, made merry and sang praises to Poseidon and Triton alike. That was the last time most of the land and sky gods visited Iconic, because Circe, seeing the potential of her potion, demanded that she be rewarded every time it was consumed. And gods being gods, would accept only things that were given free.
Left mostly alone by himself, Triton began venturing beyond Iconic. He explored the many places in Arcadia’s furthest corners. Years and many expeditions later, not only Iconic but the ocean of Arcadia was Triton’s kingdom, prosperous and full of loyal, happy merpeople. But Triton had one weakness. His twisted conch shell. And he liked to blow his shell a lot! Another century later, Triton decided that it was best to celebrate 200 years of ownership of Iconic in his family and 100 years from when it was handed over to him by Poseidon. The celebration was to be bigger and better than the one held a century ago.
For this, Triton summoned Ursula, the sea-witch whose fame for entertainment and spicing up life had reached the seven seas. Yet, Triton had to think several times before deciding. Ursula was not a favourite of merpeople, as she was equally famed to ‘trade’ merpeople for personal interests. However, the celebrations were more important, as it was an once-in-a-lifetime event. So, the decision was made and Ursula welcomed to the palace.
As she glided into the reef, the sea horses guarding the periphery of the reef were troubled by the strong ripple of current created in the water. This ripple followed the sea-witch everywhere she went. Her six tentacles twisted and twirled around her and the smallest fish and anemone were wrapped around it and smashed on the rocks and corals. But Ursula did not bother. She pretended not to know. That was the thing with Ursula. Though born into the family of Octopus, she only had six tentacles, her two hands serving instead. So some thought she was from the dynasty of Squid. But nobody knew. Nobody knew who Ursula really was.
So she entered Iconic, and turned a new page in the history of Arcadia. The first few days were spent gliding across Iconic, not sparing an inch of the great reef. At first the merpeople welcomed her with smiles. But as days passed, the atmosphere changed. Every night something would happen within the palace walls, and the next day, the merpeople found one of their favourite mergenerals had disappeared. There was no trace of them, nobody had heard nor seen them leave. One by one mergenerals vanished, some even with their families. So now the merpeople by the sides of the rocky paths either scuttled away, or averted their eyes away from Ursula when she walked around.
After her daily rounds, she would lock herself with Triton in his royal chamber for hours. No one knew what conspired between them.
It was announced that the celebrations were being planned in the most extravagant manner. All the gods and demigods of the land and sea were invited, just like before. Triton wanted to impress his friends, and that is exactly what Ursula promised to do.
And she delivered.
The celebration was better than the one held a century ago. Triton’s scribes wrote every detail in long reeds and stored them safely in the caves of Iconic, a tribute to the achievement of Triton.
Because after the celebrations, Ursula did not leave Iconic, though all the merpeople were keen to see the last twisting tentacle vanish from their beloved reef. It was not to be so. Ursula fell in love with the power she wielded over the whole of Iconic and no way was she to lose it and go back to living in the darkest part of Arcadia all by herself.
So Ursula started walking around Iconic more. The once-a-day rounds increased to two then three, after every meal. During these rounds, she was able to pick out a few merpeople whose faces she did not like. One by one she befriended them and learnt their secrets and weaknesses. Every night she would sit in front of her bubbling cauldron and fill it with the little bits and pieces of the lives of her victims. By the end of the week as the sun sinks into Arcadia, Ursula would stir these pieces, chanting incantations no one understood. She would then carefully lift her tentacles and pull out the vapour from the cauldron. The vapour would take the form of the merperson whose pieces of soul belonged to, and as the vapour-like image screamed and withered, Ursula would twist her six tentacles around it and stroke the figure like a mother would a baby. Gradually the strokes would become stronger and the figure in the vapour would begin to groan and moan. The strokes would become even more rigorous until the figure would be screaming in pain. The screams get louder and louder and with sudden burst of flames, the figure would disappear. The next morning, the real merperson to whom the life pieces belonged to would have disappeared too.
With no trace.
So things drastically changed at Iconic, but Triton was not aware. Ursula made sure he did not know. She had him wrapped in a mist of ignorance, through which he could only see what she showed him. Right now, all of Triton’s loyal subjects have left him. The ones who remain are surrounded by the mist too, and thus cannot save Iconic from the impending disaster.
The rest of Arcadia watches on, unable to talk sense to Triton, helplessly watching the impending disaster.