However, the trio did not seem to realize how much trouble they were bringing to the sirens…
When they saw the stupid cat girl messing around, Hao Ren and Vivian quickly went to stop her. They struggled to get ahold of the exceedingly lively cat, but Rollie did not understand what all the fuss was about. As Hao Ren dragged her way by the collar, she pawed the water desperately and reached out her neck to try and get another bite of the mermaid's tail. "Food, food, don't you get away! Come back here, food! Argh, Big Boss Cat, why are you dragging me away meow…"
Shaqira curled into herself, hugging her tail poor tail. She looked confused. "What's wrong with her…"
Hao Ren pressed the cat girl's head down, feeling cold sweat running all over him (despite being under water, he could still feel the cold sweat). He explained, "She's a cat, right? Perhaps she's starving, and then happen to see your tail."
Shaqira shuddered. "But she wasn't like this last time! How come nothing happened last time?"
Hao Ren sucked in his lips. "Last time you all looked crazy, the coward didn't dare to bite."
When Shaqira heard this, she burst into a bubble mist and transformed into a voluptuous sea snake. She caressed her new tail softly, fear still lingering in her. "This should stop triggering her, right?"
Rollie watched as the mermaid shapeshifted into a sea snake form. The delicious fish tail was nowhere to be seen. "Food, gone…"
"Food, food, food — that's all you can think of!" Hao Ren smacked the stupid cat in the brain. "Didn't you leave with a full stomach just now? It's only been a few hours, and now you're so hungry you can't even tell a mermaid and food apart?"
Vivian, however, could sympathize with the cat girl. "It's not really her fault. To a cat, Nasaton smells like food utopia. Lucky for the sirens, it's a celebration today, so most of them are not in mermaid form. The cat would have gone crazy otherwise."
Hao Ren looked around him. Most of the sirens were in mimicking all kinds of weird things, but there were still some exhausted or bored sirens who had returned to their most restorative form — a mermaid. Poor Rollie saw fish tails all around her, but could not even get a bite in. Shaqira looked at the dejected cat girl and pitied her. She forgot all about the tail-biting incident and picked Rollie by up the arm. "Come, let me treat you to sushi!"
The cat girl was so excited to for the meal, but instead of running off right then, she looked tentatively at Hao Ren. Hao Ren was pleased. He smiled and nodded. "Go on, but don't go biting anyone again, or I won't bring you here next time."
Having had her master's approval, the cat girl joyfully trailed after Shaqira. Vivian watched their receding figures and said, "They are going to be alright now, right?"
Hao Ren considered that, and then shouted, "Shaqira! Don't tranform back before she's full!"
"Ah! Landlord! Battie! Are you done with the meeting?" Hao Ren was about to ask around for Lily when the werehusky lady called to him from a distance. "What did the Queen say? Did she agree?"
Hao Ren and Vivian turned to look at Lily, who was swimming their way in her trademark dog paddle style. Her tail steered her forward like a turbine, and she was actually swimming quite fast. When she reached Hao Ren, the latter noded. "It's all done. The Queen wants one of the arks in exchange for their stay on Io. I've agreed on their behalf. I will request for a big spatial carg hold from the higher-ups. Once we get that, we will take our leave. The Queen will be coming with us. Say, did you see Lil' Pea anywhere?"
Lily looked around. "Nope. The little fellow is fast, I couldn't keep up with her. But if Wuyue is watching her, we'll know where she is. You know, this place isn't so fun after all, let's go out and play, Landlord, let's go!"
Lily circled around Hao Ren eagerly like a spoiled puppy. Without the pressure from work on her shoulders, she was now showing her true colors. Hao Ren looked around at the crowded and noisy hall, and had to agree with her. He nodded and said, "Alright, let's get some air outside."
The three of them left the great hall. They said farewell to Sorma, who was on guard duty, as they left the palace, and then arrived at the massive public square outside. The square was still as lively as before. Even though the earlier group of partygoers had already left, the shapeshifting mania continued with constant new arrivals at the public square. It looked like the celebration would continue on for a long time still. Hao Ren and his group found a relatively quiet spot to rest. Lily went searching for her 'treasures', while Hao Ren and Vivian enjoyed the sights of Nasaton's unique culture.
Spiralling towers were erected around the palace grounds. Emerald green crystals embedded in the towers sparkled brilliantly in the depths of the sea. The city's gigantic shield above their heads separated the water in the ship from that of the ocean, and illuminated the city below like the skies beyond the ocean surface. Through the light blue protective screen, dark shadows occasionally wandered past. Some of them were deep sea creatures, while others were sirens on patrol.
Seeing all these from below felt as magical as living in a crystal palace in the depths of the ocean.
"Our last visit here was to fight a war. The city center was reduced to rubble. Everything has changed now." Vivian narrowed her eyes, shifting her attention from the towers to the public square. "This atmosphere suits them better."
"Do you interact much with the sirens back in the old days?" Hao Ren asked curiously.
"Rarely. They have always been solitary creatures." Vivian shook her head. "However, I know that they were actually very curious about the outside world. Their observers visited the land frequently. Legends about sea monsters in the Classical Era and the myth of the Siren's Song going around sailors in the Middle Ages come from them. Hah… That was a time of anarchy, but not without its amusements. The world back then was not as 'precise' or 'stable' as today. Human societies are built on stability. The Dark Ages is truly… an era of darkness."
"I keep hearing you talk about your past, and to be honest, I'm intrigued." Hao Ren smiled. "If I was born a few hundred years of even a millennium ago and saw the old you, what do you think will happen if we met?"
Vivian considered the scenario. "If you're lucky enough to survive in those days — please remember to buy food for me. Back then, I felt I was starving almost every day!"
The duo chatted idly. After awhile, Hao Ren looked up to search for Lily. The werehusky lady was digging excitedly in the ground nearby. Finally, she exposed a black metallic cylinder — it was a torpedo. Vivian was delighted to see that. "Katerina is quite a character. Maybe this is one of the Queen's secret hobby?"
By then, Lily had already pulled the torpedo completely out of the sand. She scratched the torpedo's shell eagerly. "Katreina! Katreina! I found you! Quick, change into something else!"
The torpedo was silent despite her urgings. Next, Hao Ren heard the Queen of the Sirens spoke from behind him. "So this is where you've been hiding."
Hao Ren's smile froze. He turned to look at the Queen, and then shouted at Lily, "You idiot, that's a real torpedo!"
The werehusky lady absorbed the fact, and then snapped her tail straight. She howled at Hao Ren, "Holy moly there's a torpedo!"
Katreine quickly explained, "Don't panic, don't panic! It won't explode! The detonator is removed!"
Hao Ren felt cold sweat beading on his forehead. "I say, what is it with your local culture, dumping these around the city…"
"I did tell you that we sirens have been gathering items lost or dumped to the sea over the years." Katreina replied easily. Her eyelids fluttered enthusiastically. "This is why I came looking for you — would you be interested in having a look at our collection?"