“One must willingly wash away self-defined illusions to truly discover who you really are.”
-The Scrolls of V’lique, the Ancient Philosopher
Taja waded knee-deep into the warm waters of the ocean, then stopped and glanced back to the shore, only to find Ranseur walking away. She spun around. “Wait! Where are you going?”
Ranseur paused and let out a small sigh, then forced a smile onto her face and turned to Taja, then glanced beyond her at the ocean’s horizon. “These steps, my darling, I cannot take for you,” a voice echoed in Taja’s mind. “But I will be with you. Go.” She brought her gaze down, brushed the girl’s face with it, then turned her back and started to walk again.
Taja’s brow furrowed, and she stared at the lady, then pursed her lips and turned back to the water. A few more steps into the blue brought the gentle morning waves to near her neck, and she felt the pebbles and shells at her toes give way to a softer sand. As the water lapped at her body, she sensed something in herself she hadn’t felt in many cycles of the moons, too many cycles to remember. Her nerves tugged at her gut, like anxious butterflies trying to escape.
A small wave washed over Taja’s face, and she tasted salt.
“Ulp!” Rising to her tiptoes, partly floating in the water, she moved her arms back and forth for balance and tried to grow bigger. The salt sat on her tongue, distracting her from the incoming waves. I know this… she swirled the salt around in her mouth… this taste. I know this. Why do I know this? A sharp pain twisted her stomach into a knot, and she gasped, clutching at her abdomen. Water filled her mouth, cascaded down her throat, and she coughed, desperately kicking to keep her head above the surface. Help me! Sharp shooting pains tugged her torso again, and she slid beneath the surface.
Panic gripped her, she gasped again, and her eyes opened. She blinked. I can… see? And breathe? But… I’m underwater. I should be drowning. Why can I breathe? Fish…—fish? How pretty! A school of florescent blue fish swirled about her, brushing her skin as they passed, and she watched, transfixed until they vanished into the depths. Fish! And what is… She looked down at something glinting in the sun that filtered through the water but where her feet should have been… she stared in horror.
A near-translucent fin glimmered in the shallow waters where moments ago her feet had been. A darker lateral line of scales grew upward from the fin, covering her legs, reaching to her waist. The scales thickened and became more solid, her legs transforming into a tail, tightening with some discomfort and then the pain relented.
Taja rubbed her eyes and shook her head, trying to rub the image away. But the tail refused to turn back into legs. Lady! Please! I can’t… her eyes caught a glimpse of something between her fingers. What is that? She forgot the tail and flexed her hands, watching in fascination as webbing stretched and sprouted between her fingers, the see-through strands glistening in the morning sun. Wow! She held up one hand and peered closely at the webbing. What is going on?
A mental image of Ranseur’s smile filled Taja’a mind. “Don’t fight it my child. Relax, you’re doing fine. Breathe… swim. This is who you are. This is who you’ve always been. Remember.”
Taja nodded at the image, then blinked and settled her body. The warm ocean filled her senses, and a stillness fell over her. Flexing her fin, she stretched her arms in front of her.
Her new form cupped the water and propelled her forward.
In an instant, she breached the surface, this time with confidence. “Whee!” She twirled around and landed on her back, spraying water into the air. Another twitch of her tail and she dove for the bottom, then flipped over and shot back to the surface. “This is great!”
“That’s good, child, but stay in control.” Ranseur’s thoughts carried a bit of concern.
Taja ignored her. Watch me! She launched herself through the water, diving, leaping and skimming the bottom before shooting as far into the sky as she could manage. Ranseur’s words tried to echo in her mind, but she shut them out and chased a dolphin into the dark depths instead.
Wait… a bit of panic tinted the lady’s thought.
Pausing, Taja looked around. Darkness —the sunlight barely flicking in the water high above. Cold. Oops. A pain started in her tail fin, and she winced, then pulled at the water and struggled to gain the surface. Seconds became an eternity but at last she gained the air and floated, exhausted and confused.
Perhaps you shouldn’t swim so deep for now, my darling, Now, see if you can make it to the island, you’re almost there.
Taja took a deep breath and looked around. The island, once so small and distant, was almost close enough to touch. Oh. My tail hurts. My arms hurt, but… maybe… She ducked under the surface again and tried to think only of swimming until her hands were grabbing sand instead of water. A sigh of relief escaped her, and she lifted her head into the air, then crawled into the white foam of the shallows and sunk her hands wrist-deep into the wet sand. Her head slumped. She spat out seawater, drew in a deep breath of air, then dragged herself onto the beach before collapsing. A few seconds passed, then the tips of Ranseur’s feet appear in front of her. She lifted her head and looked up.
Ranseur reached down and placed a finger under her chin, lifting her gaze. For a moment, her face held no expression, then a thin smile formed on her countenance. “Well done, my daughter. You have impressed even me.”
Taja’s mind swirled in confusion as all the new experiences collided with themselves. She sniffed. “What happened to me? Where are my… legs? Did you…” she looked askance at Ranseur. “…did you turn me into a fish?”
Ranseur knelt in the sand next to Taja. “No, my sweet,” she whispered in her ear as she smoothed back her wet hair. “You are not a fish. And you are stronger than even I thought. I’m so proud of you!”
Taja leaned into Ranseur’s arms and nuzzled her chin over her shoulder then spotted her hands. “They’re changing again.” She twisted around and looked at her tail as it slowly turned back into legs. “They’re changing too.” She stared at the webbing between her fingers until it had completely vanished, then wriggled out of the lady’s grasp and stood up, bent over, and patted her legs. “They feel okay.”
Ranseur chuckled, then stood up, brushing the sand away as she straightened. “I’ve told you since the night we met you were special.”
“It this your magic?” Taja stopped patting her legs and stood up also, then peered at the lady through one eye. “A spell?”
“No, dear girl. This is your magic.”
“Yes, Taja. Your magic. I didn’t mean to scare you… but I was with you every second of your self-discovery.”
“My what?” Taja rubbed her eyes and reached out to be held again.
“You found out who you are today,” Ranseur gave her a hug. “You are a siren of the Rasmanian sea, and I’ve brought you home.”