The sea was a perfect reflection of dusk and stars, a painting words could barely describe.
Penelope often said the Sea Fae must have painted it just for us--but she didn't say it that evening, so instead, I'll say it looked nice.
"Anyone want the last two slices of bread?"
I glanced over my shoulder. "Yeah, sure." Standing from my bench, I made my way over to her, my hands jammed in my pockets.
"Almost unnerving how still she is today, isn't it?" a sailor asked. I didn't know her name.
Penelope shrugged and finished making my sandwich. "I don't know, I rather like it. All the stillness reminds me of a dream."
It was rather like a dream. The water was so tranquil that it mirrored the sky exquisitely, and the clouds, with their cranberry-stain and honeyed sunlight, were very worth mirroring.
I pulled my leather case from around my neck and withdrew the spyglass. It was cold against my face as I peered through it, over the endless sea.
"Oi, what's that?" I commented--more to myself at first.
Beneath the still waves, where the water was darkened by the sky, was a steady glow. Not a reflection, but an actual light.
The glowing shape drew near to us and then circled our boat.
"Girls, get a look at this!" I stuck the glass back into my satchel and hung it over my shoulder. "There's something you need to see."
Penelope handed me the sandwich and then stepped beside the side of the boat. "What? Where is it?"
I pointed to where the glowing light was shimmering just under the water, leaving behind a trail of sparkling light.
"Woah! Everyone, come look at this!"
All four of us crowded at the edge as we watched for the glowing light to reappear.
The light was dim, but then suddenly gleamed brighter and started to hurry away.
"Let's follow it!" Skylar announced. "Who knows where it'll take us!"
So we did.
We didn't have a reason to, and I'll be the first to admit that it wasn't the practical thing to do, but we did it anyway.
When we finally caught up to it, it had taken us to a spot with dozens more of these strange, glowing lights.
I grinned. "Quick, let's drop our nets! We'll be rich with whatever's down there!"
Penelope looked at me in horror. "Azrielle! Don't say such things! You'll make the Fae mad at us!"
I rolled my eyes. "Come off it, Pen. There's no such thing as Sea Fae."
She raised her chin. "There's no such thing as a person who offended them and lived to tell about it, either."
I sighed and shook my head.
The air smelled especially sweet that evening. It smelled faintly like vanilla and ivy--but with a more exotic scent that I'd never known. The sea's normal scent was still there of course, just. . . different.
Everything that night was different.
"I say we leave these. . . Sea Fae, for lack of a better term," drawled Skylar, "and cast our nets elsewhere. These lights unnerve me."
"More than the sea," the fourth sailor added, whose name I didn't know.
I huffed. "Isn't curiosity eating you girls up at all?" I demanded. "Come on!"
Penelope snorted. "It can't, when you already know what it is." She glanced down at the dancing lights under the water. "Still. . . I do wonder what it would be like."
"To catch them?" I asked hopefully.
"No!" she exclaimed in reply. "To touch them. To see them!"
I shook my head. "Superstitious. That's all you are, Penelope."
Skylar stepped up to her paddle. "Come on, let's row. There's no point in staying here any longer."
But when we started to row, we didn't move.
I peered out over the edge at the lights, which now appeared to be laughing at our predicament. I didn't know how, they just. . . felt like they were.
"Weird," I commented, leaning back into my seat.
When I turned to face my fellow sailors, they were gone.
Not one was in sight.
Eyes wide, I glanced back over the side of the boat, only to see a faint rippling of the waves.
There was no reply.
I stood up quickly, which made the boat rock from side-to-side.
A giggle. I heard it--plain as day!
Heart racing, I grabbed our nets and threw them over the side of the boat.
"Sea. . . Fae?" I called out. "If you've taken them, I'll take one of you! Give them back!"
"First, tell me what you see." The voice was a silver whisper, swirling through the air in the form of a breeze.
I jumped, causing the boat to sway as I turned to face the voice.
There was nothing there. Nothing but endless, quickly-darkening water.
The sun was disappearing fast. I had to find my crew.
"I see nothing! Now tell me what's happening!" I shouted to the voice.
"Patience, patience. You humans are always in such a rush to get back to the light. Come here."
I stepped closer to the voice and saw a shimmering light, just under the water.
"Well, that's because we. . . we need the light," I murmured, eyeing the light.
"Aye--you need the light. But the dark is where you learn to put the light to use."
The light shimmered and swirled beneath the waves before circling itself.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"I want to show you what you've needed to see, young one."
Suddenly, a curtain of water washed over the boat, over me, over my life.
I was no longer on a small fishing boat, but instead, suspended in a vast body of endless water.
I held my breath, my gaze darting for escape.
There was none.
"Patience. It is something you will need much of." The light shimmered before me and then fizzled out, as if it had never been there.
I kicked my legs in the nothingness, searching for escape. Searching for an exit.
There was an empty world surrounding me, one of absolutely nothing. Nothing except water.
My lungs felt like they were going to burst, and so did my cheeks. My clothes felt heavy with the water, as if the sea was keeping me there, fixed in place like a wall hanging.
"Breathe." The voice was there, but the light was not.
Suddenly, I inhaled water, and everything changed.
Stars were all around me. Brilliant, endless stars.
I floated in a watery world of endless galaxies, where everything was dark except for the stars.
--And I was breathing air.
The brilliant wonder of it all crashed over me as one of the stars drew closer--so close, I nearly touched it. The sudden shift in light burned my eyes.
"Peer into me."
I was startled by the voice.
I ventured to find my own voice, but all that came was silence.
"Is it so hard for you to simply listen? Can you not be taught something?"
I shook my head. No, I didn't want to be taught. I wanted to go home! I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun on my face--the freedom of air!
"Then you are more hopeless than I imagined."
I searched the glowing blaze of light for a person--for any source of a speaker. There was nothing. Nothing but light.
The light shifted, and suddenly I saw a room of light, with nothing but brightness to act as walls.
Two people were trapped inside--Skylar and Penelope. They were alone, talking. Searching for a way out.
"Who would you save?"
I peered closer at my crewmates, their faces pounding in my heart like a hammer. Was one of them going to die?! I couldn't--what was happening?!
I shook my head, touching my throat to convey that I had no speech. It was the perfect excuse.
"So neither of them? Because you can't decide, you will save neither? Shocking." The light dimmed. "But wasn't there a third member of your crew? A quiet one. You didn't even know her name. Was she less important because you didn't know her?"
I squinted at the light. What was the purpose of this entire situation? Of course she was important!
The light dimmed again. "Then why did you not worry for her life?"
The light dimmed one last time, revealing the crewmate that I didn't know.
I stared at her in wide eyes. She had been the light?!
She tilted her head at me. "You think you can storm into a place and take what you like, but you forget that there are those who can do the same to you."
My eyes widened. But I never actually lowered the nets! I never took one of the lights!
"A life for a life," she whispered, and then was gone.
Things changed again quicker than I could comprehend at first.
We were back on our boat, following the trail of a glowing, golden orb in the water. The sun was still up, higher than when I'd last seen it.
I inhaled a deep breath, turned to Penelope and Skylar, and said, "You know, I think we should go back. Maybe this creature--whatever it is--should remain a mystery."
I glanced over at the nameless sailor, looking for her approval.
But she was gone.