(NOTICE: This story has some scenes that may be too frightening for preschoolers. Use your own discretion.)

Morgan knocked gently on the chamber door; the Princess wasn't in a good mood that day. Typical for her, when she didn't get what she wanted.

"Yes!?", yelled an irritated voice.

"You called for me, Princess", answered the man.

"Come in, Morgan", answered the Princess. The man entered the young woman's study room; she was sitting in an armchair, with a book opened in her lap. Her dark eyes looked up at him with sullenness.

Morgan studied her features: she was a lovely woman; in her early twenties. She had a roundish face, dark hair, and a pert nose. If he hadn't known how cold-blooded she was, he would have taken a more personal interest in her.

"What are you staring at?", growled the Princess.

Morgan's eyes shot to the floor. "Sorry, Princess Helena."

Helena smiled, sarcastically, "If I didn't know you better, I would think you were flirting with me." The smile disappeared in a flash. "But I do know you. All you are after is power. That's why you stay around me: I know how to get it."

It was Morgan's turn to smile. "That you do; Princess."

Helena ran her finger along the book. "Do you know how long I've been widowed, Morgan?"

"I would say over a year, Princess. That fellow from Jaimaca."

Helena sucked her teeth. "Yes. Desmond. What a bore he was. But he owned half of that island.

"Which now belongs to you; thanks to his most unfortunate demise", noted Morgan, with a smile.

Helena frowned up at the man. Morgan was about thirty-five; a tall lithe man who reminded the Princess of an undertaker. He had a merciless heart and a keen mind. Sometimes, she felt he was too smart. "That's how rumors get started, Morgan. I loved that man. At least, for a couple of months."

"Like your first husband? In Europe?", asked the black-haired man.

Helena smirked. "Now he was a bore! Such the gentleman. Well; that's none of your business. My mind is on another Prince, at the moment."

"You don't mean Prince Eric? He got married last week. To a lovely little thing, from the accounts of it."

Helena glared up at Morgan. "You think I'm going to let his marriage to that tramp stop me? Accidents,...can happen, Morgan."

The man smiled coldly. "If I was Eric, I'd be ordering the casket right now."

Prince Eric thought that Ariel was more excited about his friends coming to visit than he was! The girl was busy; scampering about; helping Carlotta get the dinner ready for their guests. When she saw him smiling at her, the girl ran up and grinned up at him.

"What are you smiling at; you silly boy?" She tip-toed up and planted a big kiss on his lips.

Eric took her in his arms and looked down at her. "Acually; I'm kind of worried. The way you're running about makes me think you might be interested in one of my friends."

Ariel giggled and pulled away. "I think one man is more than enough to handle already!"

Eric laughed, and watched his wife run off to get the silverware.

That evening, Eric's guests arrived, in a carriage, to the palace's front gate. The Prince went out to welcome them.

The first one to bound out was David; a young baron from the old country who had come over in the ship with Eric. They had known each other since they were kids.

"Eric!", shouted the young man; and pounded him on the back. "Good to see you again! Where's that wife of your's? I can't wait to see her! Actually; I'd rather see a mug of brew, first. Long trip, you know."

Eric laughed. "That can be arranged."

Alfred stepped out next, and stretched. He was the oldest of the group: a rather quiet, dignifed man, and a true friend of not only Eric; but of his father before him. Alfred was only a Duke, but he actually owned a larger estate, back in Germany, than Eric's whole kingdom.

Eric shook the man's hand, warmly. "Alfred! Glad you could make it!"

"Long trip it was; but I wanted to see your bride", said the man with a smile. "Married for appearance or for personality?"

Eric laughed. "Both! Ariel is one-of-a-kind."

Daniel and Shawn stepped out, right behind the Duke. They were both military men, and had served with Eric during a skirmish with pirates, a few years before. Shawn was the younger of the two; eager for battle and almost reckless when the fighting was thickest. It was he who had saved the Prince's life, during a particulary fierce encounter aboard a pirate ship. Daniel had a much cooler head; and a keen intellect. Eric had seen this at once, and had put him in charge of directing the attacks.

Shawn came up and hugged Eric like a brother. "Where's Ariel?! I want to see her!"

Eric chuckled. "Hands off, Shawn. She's mine!"

Daniel shook Eric's hand, and smiled. "It's good to see you again, Eric. It was a pleasure serving under such a qualified commander.

Eric grinned; showing his dimples, "Heck; Dan: I was just sixteen years old! You did most of the commanding!"

David called from the palace's steps, "Hey! All that back-slapping is good and fine, but this bloke is thirsty!"

The group went into the palace; Eric led them to the dining room. Ariel was there to greet them, in a beautiful ballroom dress of white lace.

Daniel took off his hat; Alfred bowed, and Shawn blushed to the ears, as Eric introduced them to his bride. Ariel smiled, warmly, and led them to the dinner table.

Eric helped his young wife with her chair, and then sat down across from her; with his friends on either side.

"I must say that not in all Germany have we a charming girl like this", said Alfred.

"She's beautiful, Eric!", stuttered Shawn; then blushed at his boldness.

Ariel blushed too: She didn't know what to do, with all of these compliments.

Carlotta brought out the dinner plates, and the hungry men started in. David looked around for the meat, but didn't see any. "Hey,...Eric. Has it been a bad year for the livestock or something?"

Ariel's face paled, and her husband jumped in, "I've found that not eating meat keeps me in a better temper."

David laughed. "Then, by-all-means; let's keep it away from you!"

Daniel nodded to the girl. "Don't let David fool you. Eric has one of the noblest personalities I have ever come across. I've never known him to lose his temper at anything other than threat to his loved ones, treachery, or cowardice."

Alfred sipped his tea and spoke up, "Vegetarian I have been for a long time. It is healthier."

Ariel smiled. "I'm glad you are; Alfred. Eric has been really sweet and understanding about it too. He does everything he can to make me happy."

"So would I, Princess!", answered Shawn. "I've seen a lot of battles with your husband; and recovered a lot of treasure from pirates, but I think Eric has won the greatest treasure."

David smiled. "I think he's talking about you, Princess."

Ariel smiled, devilishly, at Shawn, "I think Eric might want to keep an eye on you; Shawn. You might steal me away!"

Eric chuckled. "Oh; I've got my eye on him, all right."

Daniel looked over at the Prince. "By-the-way; I was given a message from the Princess of Glowerhaven to give to you. She would be honored if you and your wife would come to visit her. She says she is anxious to meet the Princess."

Eric groaned. "Oh; I bet she is."

Ariel looked at her husband; in confusion. "What's wrong, Darling?"

Eric sighed. "Oh,...nothing. It's just that,...well; you'd have to meet Helena to know what I'm talking about. She isn't the most,...pleasent of people."

Ariel smirked at him. "That's not very nice. I'd like to meet her!"

David laughed. "I don't think Helena wants to see you, Princess, as much as she wants to see Eric."

Ariel's smile faded. "Ohhh. Then, maybe we should'nt go to see her."

"That would be a wise decision; I think", added Alfred.

Shawn laughed, "You know; the villagers in Glowerhaven say there's a monster living down in the depths of the castle. Helena is supposed to be keeping it as a pet!"

"Maybe they're talking about Morgan", sugguested David; then broke out in a grin. "I know, I know. That was cruel!"

Eric shrugged. "You might be right."

Ariel shot Eric a mean look, "Eric! Be nice now!"

The boy grinned. "Sorry! Sorry!"

Alfred nodded. "The King of the castle; we see who really is!" After dinner, the friends talked for a while, and then it was time to say goodbye. Eric and Ariel waved to them, as their carriage pulled away.

"You have some nice friends", said Ariel, with a smile.

Eric raised his eyebrows. "Oh really? Any one in particular?"

The girl giggled and slapped him playfully. "Silly!" She put her arms around the boy and squeezed against him. "I guess I'm gonna just have to show you who I love!"

Eric smiled; devilishly. "Goodie!"

It wasn't fifteen minutes after recieving Eric's decline at her invatation, when Helena's scribe had the misfortune to present his latest work to her. The Princess was a voracious reader, and kept the poor man constantly challenged to provide her with something original. The blondish, bearded man bowed before her and offered his papers.

Helena glared up at him. "Well? What is it, this time? An ogre? Or maybe a leprechaun?"

Jay could see that his life might, very well, be in jeopardy this time. The woman was as unpredictable as a weasel and as callous as an executioner. "You jest; your Highness", smiled the man. "I would never present you with such an unsophisticated story."

Helena rapped her fingers on the wood of her chair. "Yes. I know. You have me constantly searching through the dictionary for the words you've dragged out." Helena snapped out her arm and took the pages. She read a few lines and threw them back in his face. "This is garbage! I support you for doing this?! It's about time I introduced you to Beast."

Jay trembled at the name. "I beg your forgiveness, your Highness! Perhaps; if you point out the flawed sentences, I could correct them for you!"

"The whole work is flawed!", hissed the woman.

A man stepped from out of nowhere, and Helena started. It was Morgan. How that cursed man could move like a cat! "What do you want?!", growled Helena.

Morgan smiled; coldly. "I told your Majesty that Eric would refuse the invitation. However. I had already planned for that."

Helena's flushed face calmed. A smile crossed her lips. "That will be all; Jay. I'll read your story later, looks like a good one."

Jay suppressed a sigh of relief; bowed, and hurried out of the room.

"What do you have in mind; Morgan?", asked the Princess, with anticipation.

Carlotta entered the dining room, with a puzzled expression on her face. Ariel and Eric were still eating breakfast; the girl swallowed her little bite of toast and looked up at her friend. "What is it, Carlotta?"

"You can't find your sewing kit", guessed Eric.

"No; it's not that", answered the housekeeper. "There's a,...well,...he's on the front steps,..."

Eric and Ariel glanced at each other; in puzzlement.

"You just have to come and see", offered Carlotta.

They followed the woman to the palace's front door. Right outside; tied to a column, was a little grey pony. Ariel's eyes widened and she squealed with delight. In a flash, she was down the steps and hugging thr animal. "He's so cute!" , she squealed.

Carlotta looked at the boy. "Now; where do you suppose he came from?"

Eric shrugged. "Never seen it before. Doesn't look like any pony I've seen in the village."

Carlotta smiled, as she watched the girl stroking the pony. "I see one girl who's smitten by him!"

"Can we keep him, Eric?", asked Ariel. "Please?! Pretty please?!"

Eric nodded. "I'll even teach you to ride him!"

Ariel gasped with surprised delight. "All by myself?!" She patted the pony's head. "I'm calling him Stormy!"

Eric laughed. "He may not be able to live up to that name!" He looked over at Carlotta. "At least; I hope not!"

Ariel talked to the pony, "Don't listen to him,.. I know you can outrun that old mare he's got! I bet you're the fastest pony in the whole kingdom!"

Grimbsy went to the stables, to search out a saddle small enough to fit the pony, while Carlotta and Ariel made a trip to the village to pick out a pretty riding skirt. It wasn't long before everything was ready. Ariel came out, wearing a baby-blue and white oufit that accented her lovely figure; and a big happy grin.

Eric smiled, as he helped her up on the pony. "Now; I know you might be a little scared at first, but there's really nothing,..."

"GO!", hollered Ariel, and the pony took off under the girl's skillful handling. There wasn't much difference in a pony or a seahorse!

Eric's last view of the girl was of her sweet, grinning face; her beautiful red hair flowing in the wind, as she looked back at him.

Grim cracked a smile. "I think you should commence the pursuit immediately, if you ever expect to overtake the Princess."

Eric grinned at his elderly companion, and ran to his horse. "She doesn't know who she's dealing with! I've won the West Indie's Riding Contest two years running!" Eric jumped on his horse and brought it around.

"That is correct", answered Grimbsy. "But you never competed against her."

Ariel followed the trail that she and Eric always liked to take: it was a beautiful path through the country-side; with lot's of soft grass, tall trees, and clear little brooks. She looked back and saw that Eric was far behind her. She slowed the pony to let him rest a little, and let her love catch up.

She was just passing through a little grove of trees, when something caught her eye on either side of the trail. She never had a chance to cry out, before two men grabbed her and put a cloth around her mouth and eyes.

When Eric reached the grove, he found the pony; but his wife was nowhere to be seen. Thinking she was teasing him, the boy dismounted and began to search for her hiding-place. It was all too soon before Eric realized that Ariel wasn't there, and that something was terribly wrong.

Morgan's usually immaculate hair was considerably mussed-up, as he brought the captive before Princess Helena. Helena looked at the man, with amuzement. "Let a little girl like that get the better of you; Morgan?"

Ariel looked, sullenly, at the Princess, "He's hurting my arms!"

"I don't want the little vixen kicking me again", growled Morgan.

"Let her go, Morgan. She can't escape."

The man pushed Ariel away; the girl staggered and rubbed her arms where Morgan had gripped her.

"Why have you done this to me?", asked Ariel, in an angry, confused voice.

Helena smiled through her attractive lips. "I am Princess Helena. Recognize the name?"

Ariel's eyes widened. "Yes! I've heard of you! You invited Eric and me to your palace!"

"It would have saved me considerable trouble if you had accepted", returned Helena, in an irritated voice. "I've already spent more time on this than a tramp like you is worth. But; now that you are here, my plan can go forward."

"I,...don't understand", whispered Ariel. She was realizing now what a terrible place she was in.

"I wouldn't expect gutter-trash to understand", laughed Helena. "I'm surprised that you display any intelligence at all." The Princess smiled, jokingly at Morgan. "But those trained monkeys can act quite intelligent too; can they not, Morgan?"

The man nodded; nonchalantly.

"So, brought me here just to insult me?", asked Ariel, with a smirk.

Helena's smile changed to a heartless frown. "You little tramp. In a few days, I'll have you crawling on the floor like a dog. You are nothing. I wouldn't have even bothered with you, if not for the necessary deception of using you to get Eric."

"Eric? You stay away from him!", shouted Ariel.

Princess Helena leaned forward in her chair. "Let me make this clear, so that little mind of your's can understand: I'm going to marry Eric, within the week. All of his property will become mine. I will be the largest landholder in the West Indies."

Ariel's big beautiful eyes looked darkly at the Princess. Even with her hair in disarray, the girl shone with young loveliness. "You don't care about Eric. You just want his land."

Helena gave a short laugh. "See, Morgan! The monkey can learn! That's right, little girl. I want his money and power. And you're going to help me get it!"

Ariel raised her head; proudly. You'll never get to Eric from me."

Helena leaned back in her chair. She looked over at Morgan, to see if he realized how well she was playing the girl. The cursed man hadn't moved an inch, since she had started talking. He gave her the chills; sometimes!

Helena looked back at the girl. "Let me clue you in on your immediate future. In a few more days, you are going to die. I'm not going to describe to you just how this is going to be accomplished, except to say that it will be very slow and very painful."

Ariel shuddered. She could feel the death in this horrible woman's voice. "As,...long as Eric lives,...and knows that I love him", whispered the girl.

Helena scratched the back of her neck, "Yes,...well; That's the problem; you see. If you don't want Eric to wind up in a coffin beside you, you're going to have to convince him that you don't love him."

"You want me to,...say that?", whispered Ariel. Tears welled in her eyes.

Helena puckered her lips; heartlessly. "Eric has to want to marry me. Understand; pea-brain? You've got to convince your darling Eric that you've moved on to greener pastures. Or else,...", Helena drew her finger across her neck: "Kkkkeeek!! to darling Eric."

Ariel nodded to the woman. "I'll,...I'll do it", she whispered.

In the next passing days, Prince Eric walked the floor, with worry and frustration. He had hardly slept at all, during that time, despite the urgings of Carlotta and Grim. He paced the floor of the entrance hall; waiting for any word from his messangers about the search. Everyone capable, in the kingdom, were out looking for the girl. Now, another day had come, and still there was no trace of her.

Grimbsy laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "They're doing all that they can do. You will be in no condition to help Ariel if you don't get some sleep! Come on now, my boy. I'll wake you if we hear anything."

Eric ran his hands through his hair. "I just don't understand it! It's like she just,...vanished! She can't swim very good yet,... What if she fell into,..." Eric swallowed in pain.

Grim took the boy and led him towards the bedroom door. "She'll be found safe. I can feel it. Now, get some sleep."

About mid-day, a strange messenger arrived at the front gate; requesting and audience with the Prince. Eric almost broke his neck getting his boots on, while racing down the stairs. "Yes?! Yes?! What is it?! Have you found her?!"

The messenger brought out a scroll and began to read: "Princess Helena has the pleasure of informing you that Princess Ariel is safe, and is currently residing at her castle in Glowerhaven. Due to unusual circumstances, the Princess is unwilling to leave at this time, and only a visit from you, in person, will suffice to resolve the matter."

Eric buckled his boots, as he shouted, "Grim! Get my horse ready! I'm leaving at once!"

When Eric arrived at Helena's palace, he was urshered into an exquisitly-decorated sitting room. Princess Helena entered, wearing a low-cut gown of red lace. "Eric! I'm so glad to see you again!" She spoke in a silky voice. "You don't know how much I've missed you."

Eric looked around; distracted. "Where's Ariel? Is she here?"

Helena's smile faded. "Eric,...I'm sorry to have to break this to you. But Ariel,...hasn't been truthful to you."

Eric's brow wrinkled. "What do you mean?"

Helena took Eric's hand and led him to a chair. She sat down across from him; still holding his hand. The boy was too worried to even notice.

"Eric,... Girls like this,... Ariel. They aren't what they seem. You shouldn't expect commoners to remain faithful."

"What are you talking about? Is Ariel here? I want to see her!"

Helena squeezed his hand and leaned closer; giving Eric a good view of her exposed skin, and the scent of her perfume. "I'm trying to tell you that,...this Ariel doesn't want to see you again."

Eric stood up quickly. "That's nonsense!"

"That's what she told me", defended Helena. "She said that she has grown tired of you; she has realized that she can't get what she wanted out of you, and so she is looking for some other rich man to marry."

Eric laughed. "You're mad! Ariel would never say such things!"

Helena stood up and looked him in the eye. "I would never lie to you, Eric. But if you won't believe me; then, perhaps you will accept it from her."

Helena walked over to a door and opened it. Ariel stumbled into the room; looking very weak and pale. Eric rushed forward to embrace the girl, but Helena blocked his way. "Hear her first", warned Helena.

"Ariel! Darling!", whispered the boy.

Ariel looked up at him, with red eyes. "I,...", she whispered. She could barely speak. "I,...don't,," Her voice sounded lifeless.

Eric's smile froze on his face; his eyes filled with wildness. "Ariel!"

"I,...never,...loved, I just,...used,, become,...human."

Eric held out his hand. "Ariel! I love you!"

Ariel bit her lower lip. "Please go away. I don't want to,...see you,...again."

From out of nowhere, Morgan was there to take Ariel's shoulders and lead her away.

Helena stepped in front Eric; blocking his sight of the girl with her face. "I'm sorry for hurting you, Eric,...Dear. But it was the only way. Forget her. She's not worth it."

Eric fell back into the chair, in a daze; running his hands through his hair. Helena was there; stroking his brow and trying to sooth him.

"I,...I can't believe it", whispered the boy.

"Forget that little monster", urged Helena, "I'm here, now."

Ariel staggered, lifelessly, through the corridor, as Morgan led her down into the castle's catacombs. Her heart felt like it had been torn out; shudders of pain ran through her body.

The tall man smiled. "You did a good job, Princess. Eric will live now; thanks to you."

Ariel looked up at the man guiding her; her big blue eyes weren't quite focused. "Eric is safe? Yes,... That's all that matters,... Eric is safe."

No sleep; added to the numbing revelation, was too much for the boy. Eric collapsed into the chair; with exhaustion. Helena thought it the perfect time to finish off the Princess; while her future husband rested. Everything was going wonderfully! Just like a book!

Morgan took the girl into an empty, torch-lit chamber of grey cobblestone. At the end of the room was a very deep gully, running along the far wall. It was about five feet wide and six feet deep ; with cold black water reaching about halfway up it's sides. There was a single chair placed near the gully; as well as a whip on a hook and some rusty levers on the wall. Ariel was too weak to notice that the gully ran through an enourmous hole in one wall, and that the hole was covered with iron bars.

Morgan released the girl; letting her collapse onto the floor, and sat down in the chair.

Eric was safe. Ariel's heart felt itself slowly healing. Eric wouldn't be fooled by that wicked woman. He would get away. If only,..if only he knew that she still,...loved him. That's what kept the tears in her eyes and the lump in her throat. That confused look that he had given her: that had almost killed her! She wanted him to know that she still loved him. That she would always love him.

"I love you, Eric," whispered the girl.

"Quiet", warned Morgan.

It wasn't long before Helena came prancing into the chamber: all smiles. "Well! Are we ready to meet Beast? He's really gonna love you, Ariel!" Helena looked at the man. "Pick her up", she commanded; her smile gone in a flash.

Morgan lifted the girl, like a feather. Helena studied her for a moment. "You know,...I like that hair. It's dyed; isn't it?"

Ariel looked, coldly, up at the woman. "Nooo,.." she slurred; with exhaustion.

"Really? Then, after you're dead, I'm going to make a wig out of it. You don't mind; do you?' Helena giggled.

Helena walked to the edge of the gully. "You know; there are rumors that you were once a mermaid! Isn't that silly? She looked back at the girl.

Ariel didn't reply. Morgan had to hold her to keep her from collapsing.

Helena returned her attention to the gully. "Anyway,...if it was true; then Beast might even know you! Wouldn't that be a nice reunion?" Helena giggled. "But, most likely; he'll be too busy eating you, to notice."

Helena's smile disappeared, and she pointed to the gully. Morgan dumped the girl into it; Ariel came up, sputtering. The dark, cold water covered her to the waist.

Morgan started towards the door; Helena laughed at him. "Why,..Morgan! Getting cold feet?"

"I don't want to watch", answered the man, and he left the room.

Helena sat down in the chair, and grinned down at Ariel. "But I do!", she giggled.

Ariel looked up at her; the girl's long red hair hung down; dripping wet. "Why, you,..hate me so much. I never hurt you."

Helena frowned death. "But you did hurt me. I wanted Eric and you took him away from me. I always get what I want."

Ariel swayed with weakness, "Please don't,...hurt Eric. Let,..him go."

The woman smile flashed back on. "Oh; Don't worry about Eric. I'll take good care of him."

Helena walked over to the wall and raised one of the levers. With a groan, the bars began to raise over the dark hole. Something slithered in it's darkness.

Prince Eric was awakened by a hand shaking his shoulder. He looked into the face of a stranger.

"I'm sorry that I woke you,...but the way you were laid out like that,... I thought you were deathly ill or something something." Jay watched, as the young man buried his face in his hands.

"Ariel!! It's madness! It's a nightmare!""

Jay raised up and nodded. "Madness. Yes. I can believe it, around here. I you had any sense, you'd be heading for the door right now."

Eric stared, dumbly, up at the man. "Who,..are you?"

"The name's Jay. I'm Helena's royal scribe. Though; I don't know for how much longer. She keeps threatening to feed me to Beast."

Eric's eyes sank back to the floor; in despair.

Jay looked down at the boy. "You didn't know she kept a monster in the catacombs; did you? I've never seen it, but I've heard about it. Wonderful woman. They can't even get servants to stay here; they dragged in a new girl, just a few days ago. Had the prettiest red hair,.."

Eric's wild eyes shot up to the man. "What?!"

Jay stared at him, in confusion. "Uhh. I said she had red hair. Long red hair. She sure was a pretty little thing,..."

Eric jumped up; shocking the scribe with it's suddeness, and grabbed the man's shoulders "Where are these catacombs?! Can you show me the way?!"

Jay nodded, "Sure,...sure! Take it easy! I'll show you."

Eric flew down the steps, and saw a shadow at the bottom. It was Morgan.

"You are not allowed down here", commanded Morgan. "Go back upstairs."

Eric gnashed his teeth and drew his sword. "Get out of my way."

Morgan smiled; coldly. "It appears that I'll be ordering two coffins." The man drew his own sword. "Insolent child! I'm the finest swordsman in Glowerhaven."

Eric advanced on the man. "That's because I don't live here."

Helena grabbed the whip and cracked it in the air. "Come on out, Beast! It's Din-Din!"

Ariel looked from the woman, to the shadowy hole. She shivered with cold and exhaustion. From out of the darkness slithered a huge blob of pale flesh; tenticles groped out, and Ariel gasped in horror.

It was a giant squid. Not as large as many the girl had seen as a mermaid, but quite large enough to overpower the poor girl. But Ariel had not cried out from fear,...but from compassion and pity. The creature looked terribly abused and mistreated. Half-starved. One of it's eyes had been put out. Whip scars covered it's shriveled body.

"What have you,...done to him?!", cried Ariel. Tears welled in her eyes.

Helena smiled, coldly, and whipped the squid across it's head.

Ariel turned her tired, angry eyes on the Princess. "The,...villagers say,...there's a monster in the castle,..and they're right! But it's not this poor creature,'s you!"

Helena cracked her whip. "Eat her."

The squid's eye turned on Ariel and it's tenticles began to wrap around her body. Slowly; it drew her in. Ariel didn't struggle: she didn't feel terror or panic; just over-whelming pity for the tortured animal.

Helena smiled. "Let's see how compassionate you are for the poor creature while it's sucking out your entrails."

The squid's beak began to snap, and Helena leaned forward, with eyes wide with eagerness. "It usually goes for the belly first,..."

Ariel was almost to it's mouth. She reached out and touched the animal. Gently, she stroked it. "Poor thing", she whispered. The girl seemed as if she was totally unaware that she was about to be eaten.

The squid's eye looked down at her, and felt the girl stroking it. It paused; confused. It's food had never done this before. Always, they would pound on it's body, or scratch at it. This felt,...soothing. The girl's sweet voice reached deep into the creature's memory. To a time when it knew,..kindness.

Helena frowned, as her "monster" failed to tear into the girl. "What are you waiting for, idiot?!" She lashed the creature across the head.

Ariel glared up at her, "Stop it!! You monster!"

The squid felt the love that Ariel was giving to it, through her caresses. It's tenticles unwrapped from her body.

Helena flayed at the creature with her whip; her face was red with anger. "Moron!! Eat her!! Eat her!!"

A tenticle shot out and grabbed Helena's ankle. The woman shreeked and pulled free. She beat the squid in a frenzy; driving it back into it's hole, as an exhausted Ariel shrank away from the sight. The Princess lowered the bars again, and dropped her whip.

Stooping down, she grabbed Ariel's arms and dragged her out of the gully. In a flash, she turned the girl on her back and straddled her. Helena was a foot taller than the exhausted girl, and much stronger. Ariel was too weak to struggle; her arms just lay at her sides, as Helena began to strangle her.

"LIttle tramp!", hissed Helena, "I'll kill you myself!"

Suddenly, strong hands grabbed Helena's arms and threw her off the girl. Ariel's blurry eyes opened, to see Eric bending over her.

"Eric", she whispered.

The boy looked down at her, with tenderness. "You're safe now."

Ariel's arms reached out and she clung to him. "Eric,..Eric,..", she sobbed.

Eric helped the girl to her feet; she still clung to him; her arms reaching up his back, in a passionate embrace. "I love you,..I love you,..", cried the girl; her body shuddering with emotion. She closed her eyes and nestled her head against his chest.

"I never doubted it", answered the boy; gently.

Helena snickered in a corner, "What a touching scene."

Ariel slurred her words, from her weakness, "I didn't,..mean what,..I said."

"I know", answered the boy.

Ariel raised her head and puckered her lips; Eric bent down to recieve her anxious kiss. She kissed him for as long as her exhaustion would allow. Then she fell back into his arms. "No matter,...what happens", she whispered, "remember that I'll always, you." The girl hugged him again, then looked at the gully.

"I've, to help that,..poor thing." Ariel stumbled to the levers; Eric quickly followed, to support her. The girl threw a lever, and the iron bars raised. She threw another; and they heard a rusty clanking. Bright light poured out of the hole; as the outer door to freedom was finally opened.

Instead of fleeing, the squid crawled into the gully, once more. With it's eye on Ariel, it reached out a tenticle and gently touched her. The girl stroked the animal, with tenderness.

"I,..I know that you've done,..bad things, the past," started the girl, "but that's behind you. You be good now."

At last, the squid reluctantly withdrew it's arm, and swam through the whole to freedom.

Eric lifted the girl into his arms; Ariel wrapped her arms around his neck and lay her head against him.

Helena chuckled, as they walked to the door. "You haven't beaten me! ", she snickered. "I'll squash your kingdom like a bug!"

Eric looked down at her. "No you won't. After I tell the other rulers what you've been doing here; you won't even have a kingdom."

Eric turned his back on the woman, and carried Ariel back into the sunshine.


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