Millennia ago, hidden in the deep, dark abyss of the ocean, among the vast nocturne Corallian seaglass reefs, a domed city called Koriko thrived. No one but the sea nymphs who lived within its translucent seaglass walls knew of its existence. The underwater metropolis was hidden in plain view, raised from the sandstone that made up the ocean floor. No artificial illumination was permitted in the city, as its secret locality could so easily be revealed to those looking for misadventure. That was just a given for its many inhabitants. As centuries passed, the adult nymphs in the city began to develop fluorescent skin which emitted a dim glow, and their eyes began to evolve, allowing them to see in the black, dark water of the deep.
However, not all nymphs in the Hydrodome were entirely happy with the idea of living in darkness. Some simply could not fathom the irrational reason for hiding, stating the city was deep enough in the ocean for light to be permitted. Most of those who could not understand the imposition of this strict rule were children. Because of their immaturity, their eyes had not fully developed yet, and their skin was dull and dark, compared with that of their mature elders. Since they were not allowed to wander the utopia with their under-developed eyesight, staying within their Corallian abodes was the only option.
Many grew tired of what they considered to be an inhumane restriction and were impatient to leave. One young nymph, Ophelia, planned a revolt against the city-wide curfew. At the age twelve, she made plans to escape the safety of the dome. She was tired of being treated with indignance and insignificance. After all, being ‘imprisoned’ in her chambers all day until her ‘reveal’ (a time when nymphs finally shed their childhood skin and acquire luminescence), seemed an excruciating eternity away. If she could escape this incarceration, why would she have to wait and listen to those who were older and supposedly wiser? She knew very well that she had not fully developed, yet she thought she could be the one to change the laws. If she could leave and find a natural light source to bring back to the city, come up with a convincing reason as to why the occupants should install lights, and free all of the children from their prison sentences at home, she would be the hero of Koriko.
Determined and fixated on her goal, Ophelia worked quickly and stealthily.
‘Thank Amphitrite (the sea goddess) for allowing seaglass windows in this city.’ She uttered under her breath. She thought it strange that no other child had ever tried escaping through their windows like she was about to do. The only dilemma she had was that she had nothing with which to break the seaglass seal of the Hydrodome. The only object potentially heavy enough to do the job was possibly an old iron anchor that sat in the corner of her room. It was a family heirloom, and she vowed to take care of it. She hesitated, but just for a moment, before dragging the metallic object to her window. Winding herself up like a Korikan shot-put thrower, she hurled the anchor at the window with all the strength she could muster. It shattered with relative ease, paving the way for Ophelia’s freedom. This was about the only time that she was thankful for her non-luminescent skin which made her less noticeable than the adults.
Swimming behind buildings and ducking between boulders, she cautiously maneuvered through the city. Occasionally, she lost her way though, as her eyes could not fully focus on, or recognise, parts of the city. Praying that she wouldn’t be detected, she soldiered on. The dark, almost shady water was teaming with fish and other sea life. She could see the faint hints of fluorescence exuded by other nymphs going about their day, and she stayed clear of them. The last thing she needed was to be detected.
Finally, Ophelia found herself at The Shipwreck. The sunken vessel, after which Koriko was named, marked the entrance to the city, where the first generation of nymphs were born. Legends passed down, spoke of a group of sailors who were caught in a violent storm. Their boat capsized, and the crew found themselves lost at sea. Many died, but the survivors, who had nowhere to go, scrambled for their breathing apparatus and plunged down into the ocean’s depths. No one knew why they didn’t wait for rescue or how these humans without gills even survived as long as they did to create Koriko. However, folklore tells that the generations that came after the forefathers, gradually adapted and changed. Gills replaced lungs; skin began to glow, and eyes developed night vision capabilities.
Ophelia took one last look at The Shipwreck and swam further from the city. She continued on until she was certain that no one would find her. Sighing with relief, she embraced the feeling of freedom. She could make her own decisions and was adamant that they would pay off. Forcing herself to continue on, Ophelia searched in earnest for a light source. Visually impaired, she squinted in every direction, indecisive on where to start. Looking up to the heavens, she finally saw a faint yellow glow. Her spirits lifted and she kicked her legs, propelling herself upwards. The light began to expand, and its strange rays began to shine invitingly on Ophelia. Cautiously, she reached out to touch the light, but her hand went straight through the bright beam. She was mesmerised, unable to comprehend how the light had come into being or where from where it emanated. She had once read of something called sunlight but never knew what it was or what it looked like. Everything in Koriko was an eerie dark blue or green. She had never seen anything so soft, so warm, so amber gold. She drove herself upwards, occasionally reaching out to try and capture some of the light, stopping only when a dark shadow from above made the light vanish momentarily. It was large and shaped like The Shipwreck just outside Koriko. Ophelia grew suddenly fearful. She realised how close she was to the surface of the ocean. Her parents had warned her enough about humans to know what danger could befall her. She began to race back down into the depths, willing her feet to kick like they never had before.
She heard the gurgling of bubbles and looked back. It was all too late. The net grabbed her lithe body. She yelled and screamed, tugging at the net, trying to free herself. Her vision began to pulse white until the hot, blinding, intense light forced her eyes to snap shut. Her whole body convulsed as the cool air hit her frame, and the sunlight burned down on her. She curled up into a ball and hid her face from the alien beings on the floating structure she was on. Feeling feverishly faint at the lack of water, Ophelia slipped into unconsciousness.
Back in Koriko, the workday was drawing to an end. Ophelia’s mother had just arrived home, and her father wasn’t far behind. Both parents were unaware of her disappearance until she was called for dinner later that evening, and there was no response. They waited a moment, expecting that their daughter was probably just being her stubborn self. They knew full well she hated having to sit in her room all day.
“Coral, why don’t you go check on Sleeping Beauty? She’s probably dozed off…again,” her father said. Her mother nodded. However, the moment she opened the door to Ophelia’s chamber and saw the smashed window, she let out a horrified scream.
“Kai! She’s gone!” Coral sobbed, fearing the worst. Ophelia’s father raced out into the streets and alerted as many neighbours as he could, including the city’s marine police, who began the search for the twelve-year-old.
The fishermen were surprised and perplexed by their unique catch. The girl looked almost human, but they could see gills and her skin was a pale, slightly green colour.
The captain of the trawler spoke first.
“Ever heard of the legend of the Koriko? About the missing vessel and sailors who supposedly started some underwater utopia?” He asked his crew. “Maybe it’s not a legend after all.”
“I wonder if this thing is one of them mermaids. Just imagine the treasures that place probably holds,” one fisherman said in excitement. “They never did find the Koriko or its bounty.”
“We should release this thing and see if it’ll lead us straight to the riches?” the captain rubbed his hands together, thinking of what he could do with all that gold bullion the ship was said to carry.
“Why don’t we get out the gear and give it a go?” The fisherman who remained silent up to this point finally spoke. Once ready, the crew released their weird catch back into the water but kept the net loose around the figure. When it woke again, they would retract the large net to make it look like this creature was being set free. What it couldn’t know though was that it was playing right into the fishermen’s trap.
Ophelia woke with a start and momentarily forgot where she was. When she realised she was in the water again and not the dreaded surface, she frantically began swimming back towards Koriko. The net she was trapped in untangled from her body like a miracle. Too distracted by her own fear and desperation, she didn’t notice two figures tracking closely behind her, following her back to the city. They discovered quickly that its body glowed in the light. Instead of using their flashlights which could give them away, they just followed the dim glow.
Ophelia was almost back when she first saw a group of her kind. Their skin shone brighter than hers, and she could see their startled faces because of it. She scanned their expressions; some showed fear, and others alarm and panic. Puzzled, she stopped in her tracks. Two of them broke from the group, and cautiously approached Ophelia, their eyes fixed on something behind her. She quickly realised these nymphs were her parents, and she hastily whipped up an apology.
“Mum, Dad, I didn’t know, I thought —”
“Ophelia! Stop talking. Who have you brought back with you? What have you done?” Ophelia’s father was enraged.
Unaware of what he meant, she responded, “I didn’t bring anyone back.” in a quivering voice.
Just then, bright lights blinded Ophelia and the rest of the nymphs nearby. Ophelia screamed as she saw two figures swimming towards them. The men had turned their torches on. No! How could they have followed her?
“Father! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Ophelia sobbed and tried to adjust to the bright light.
She couldn’t make out the figures who were approaching the hidden city. Surely, they couldn’t be the humans from the boat. Blinding lights shone in the faces of the nymphs’ faces. Ophelia grew frantic as humans begin to search the buildings. Blinded nymphs swam around, helpless and terrified.
“Ophelia! What have you done, my child?” Her mother quizzed. Ophelia broke down, knowing that she was solely to blame for all this. All she wanted was some light in the city for the children; for everyone. Now, Koriko may be destroyed and it was all her fault.
“Everyone, listen to me!” Kai yelled over the chaos. “If you can see, I want you to listen!” Heads turned attentively in his direction. Ophelia, who was finally able to focus again, listened as well.
“This could be the end of Koriko, but it doesn’t have to be the end of us,” he continued, trying to stay calm and emotionless.
“I don’t want our treasures and valuables to fall into the wrong hands. Perhaps, we can survive this. We can escape with what we can salvage and begin again in a new place.” He proposed.
Many heads nodded in agreement. However, the possibility of starting anew was short-lived.
The captain and fisherman were awestruck. Who would have thought that the tale of the great hydrodomed city of Koriko was real? They were going to be rich! Grabbing as much as they could pick up and stuffing it into the nets they carried, the men continued to loot the city.
The captain headed toward an imposing structure which looked like it could be the city’s town hall. Looming stone columns lining the front, and a large bed of colourful coral and evangeline seaweed bordered the circular pathway leading to its entrance. Once inside the structure, something immediately caught his eye. The semi encrusted object resembled the wheel of a ship and behind it was a large a metal encasement- a vault of some sort perhaps. The captain swam towards it, eager to discover its secrets.
Upon closer inspection, he discovered that the wheel was actually made of gold. Smiling greedily, the captain attempted to turn it. He grunted as he struggled to push and pull, and after much difficulty, the wheel began to budge. With one good, final tug, the wheel began to turn stiffly at first, but rotated more freely after a couple of revolutions.
The captain noticed too late that something was not right about all this. He heard a faint tick at first, and then wheel stopped spinning abruptly. It broke off completely and fell deep into the soft shale, but the ticking got louder and more rapid. The captain yelled, realising that the ticking was from an explosive, a trap. He tried to scramble for the exit, but the structure exploded, crumbling around him before he could get away to safety.
“What’s happening?” A petrified Ophelia shouted as she watched buildings collapse to the ocean floor of the dome. The first explosion set off a chain of other explosions. It was the city’s failsafe that the forefathers had put in place, as a last resort if discovered. Ophelia watched as one by one, the town hall, and other buildings were reduced to rubble. The tremor from the explosions was formidable, creating a powerful shockwave that caused almost every home in Koriko, to crumble into piles of sand and stone.
Devastated, she watched as many of the citizens trapped in buildings and on the streets died. Ophelia wailed and swam towards the survivors, hoping to help. They were in this situation because of her. She cried uncontrollably, oblivious at first to the splintering and shattering of the seaglass dome or the fact that the building she was next to, had fractured and was about to collapse on top of her. Ophelia looked up at the last second and screamed. Then silence. After the dust had settled and cloudy water cleared, nothing remained. The Hydrodome, and the city it once protected, was no more. Nothing, but the faint hint of luminescence disappearing into the darkness.