She wasn't supposed to be there.
Her blood felt as if it were humming with that thought as she ducked down into a thick cluster of swaying kelp and watched the Keepers glide past her on their daily watch.
Yes, she wasn't supposed to be there, but never before had the selkie felt so alive. She smiled to herself and her dark eyes twinkled from her hiding place.
The sea carried her quickly with an invisible caress to the entrance of the forbidden cave, but her excitement didn't stop her from being cautious. She stayed in the smeared, water-tossed shadows of the kelp and rocks.
She saw a Keeper just overhead and her seal whiskers bristled in warning. The Keeper needed only to look down and her journey would end there. She watched the large seal above as he circled through the waters before finally turning back and disappearing in the forest of kelp. The moment he turned back, she slowly floated out of her hiding place and then willed her fins to push her as fast as possible. She slipped inside the mouth of the guarded cave.
Success! Her heart thrummed with electric excitement.
She paused inside the shadowed, ebony water and let her eyes roam the dimpled cave walls. Her flippers kicked harder, propelling her as she leaped onto the land and inhaled a deep breath of air. She rolled in the rocky sand until her skin started to dry, wrinkle, and loosen, then she slipped out of her seal skin and slowly stood, testing her legs out. How long had it been since she'd last visited this cave? She stumbled a bit at first, and then all at once her legs seemed to strengthen. The gritty, uneven sand felt sharp and odd under her feet.
She took up her skin and wrapped it around her torso to make a makeshift dress.
Surrounding her were piles of glittering jewels and gold coins. The cave was almost pitch-black, save for a small trickle of light above that spilled through a thin crack in the black stone and bounced off of a pile of colored jewels before scattering throughout the cave in colorful triangles.
Many said the treasure here was cursed and that was why the Keepers didn't allow the selkies to go near it. They assumed this because when some selkies went above water, they would try to use the treasure as payment for land-things, and they always got in trouble for doing so.
This young selkie didn't care, though. She was entranced with the white reflections of pearls that had been strung together. Never before had she seen so many pearls all at once!
She clasped an ivory hand around the pearls and slipped them atop her dark hair like a crown. Then she grinned and tilted her head upwards, towards the crack of light.
The water rippled behind her as a new presence entered the cave. She jerked around while peeling her "crown" off of her head and tossing it away. She was about to leap behind a tall pile of treasure when a whiskered seal face peeked its head out of the water and stared at her with dark brown eyes.
She swallowed and hurriedly stepped back, only to trip on a pile of gold coins and fall backwards onto her behind.
"I am sorry, I didn't mean to come here, I was. . . chased by a shark and had to escape!" she squeaked. Her voice was raspy and high all at once, partially from being unused.
The new selkie watched her as he climbed out of the water. He rolled in the sand and let his skin peel off partially. "Turn," he croaked.
She obeyed and waited a beat before turning back and crossing her arms. He now wore a sort of speckled dark robe made from his skin. "Why are you here?" she asked. Her voice still had a rasp to it, but it wasn't as bad as it had been previously.
He raised an eyebrow and his lips twisted upwards. "I could ask the same of you." His voice was hardly raspy at all. He had to come on land regularly to achieve that. . .
"I should go. I'm sure the shark is gone now. . ." she trailed off. Being alone with a stranger wasn't the greatest idea.
"Aw, already? I just got here."
Shrugging, she began to pull her skin over her arms. "Sorry."
She hurried towards the water's edge and was about to dive in when he suddenly called out, "Wait!" She froze. "Don't. . . Please don't tell anyone I was here," he begged.
The female selkie smiled to herself and glanced at him over her shoulder. "I won't if you won't."
At his nod, she dove in and finished covering herself. Her skin felt as if it were filling and sealing up around her as she took on the shape of her animal counterpart.
Down, down, down she sank. The water pushed against her sides and she let it take her, pulling her away from the cave. She swam through the kelp forests and over the coral reefs as if she were flying.
The day had passed and the sun turned the ocean a deep, dark, sunset-purple. Many of the fish were beginning to settle down for the night to hide from the sharks and the selkies met up for their evening hunting parties, where they split up into groups of three to look for food. The young selkie woman was paired up with her cousin and a new male selkie that she vaguely remembered seeing somewhere before, but she wasn't quite sure where.
He arrived earlier this morning, her cousin explained, swimming in a slow, lazy circle. He's joining our colony.
She nodded at the newcomer and smiled. Then she blinked as a realization dawned on her.
He was the man from the cave.
It is nice to meet you, she said. She stared into his eyes in a way that told him she knew who he was. He winked. Her smile blossomed into a grin.
It is nice to meet you, as well.