“Staying close to the sea makes you glad you are alive.”
-The Lady, Tarot Ranseur
“I—I don’t want to live in the sea!” Taja stammered out before she caught herself. Her face flushed and she pushed away from the lady.
“No, no dear,” Ranseur smiled. “My house—our house. That will be your home. You will live with me. But these waters bore you. And you need to know yourself, as one day you may choose to return to it.”
“What do you mean?”
With a gentle gesture, Ranseur turned Taja’s gaze back to the ocean. “Look upon the Rasmanian Sea. When you swam you saw many things, didn’t you?”
“Well,” Taja raised a curious finger to her lips. “I saw… fish.”
Ranseur chuckled. “There is so much more there, dear. I will teach you to explore it, so you may reclaim it one day if you choose. But for now, let’s play a game.”
“Yes,” Ranseur’s eyebrows raised, “I have a present for you… if you win.”
“What is it?” Taja beamed.
“Magic. And all for you.” The lady walked from the beach and turned from Taja. She climbed from the sands and trekked inland.
Taja shuffled along, trying to keep up. “Another spell?” her voice piqued with anticipation.
“No, more like the bird that I shared with you back at the camp,” Ranseur reminded her. “You liked the bird, didn’t you?”
“Of course. Do I get to keep it this time?”
“This will be a magical pet of your own. One suited to your unique talents, my child. And if you find it, yes, you get to keep it.” Ranseur looked ahead and pointed to a rise on the horizon. “Over there. It awaits you.”
The two cleared the small hill and Taja stopped in her tracks. The path gave way to a rocky cliff, and as the sharp walls of the crag fell away, a watery crater revealed itself in the center of the island.
Ranseur bent and took Taja by the shoulder. “Look yonder,” she guided Taja’s eyes with an extended finger. “On the far side of the crater lies a cave. But you cannot find it from land. You must swim into it from the waters below. If you find the entrance, it will lead you to your prize.”
Taja bubbled in excitement. “But how do I find it? I don’t know how to get—”
“And moments ago, you didn’t know you could grow fins and swim as a fish, did you?”
Taja’s face scrunched in determination and her eyes scanned the cliff for a path down to the water. “Alone?”
Ranseur’s eyes narrowed, and her mouth frowned.
“Will you come with me? Please?”
Ranseur sighed. “Very well. But I shall only walk with you to bottom of the cliffs. The rest you must do on your own.”
Taja smiled and took Ranseur’s hand.
After several minutes of twisting and turning down the rough path, they arrived at the lake’s side. The water rippled in front of them, but unlike the ocean, Taja saw no waves.
“Now,” Ranseur motioned with her hand, “make me proud.”
Taja took a deep breath, gave a sharp nod of her head, and stepped from Ranseur, her toes touching the edge of the warm pool. She glanced back at the lady, then squeezed her eyes shut and stepped into the lagoon. The broken edges of the rock ledge were sharp and her foot landed on nothing. She flailed, lost her balance, and fell into the depths.
A moment’s panic, a few seconds frantically trying to hold her breath, then she let go and relaxed. Bubbles surrounded her as she opened her eyes and she hung suspended in the water waiting for the change.
The pain returned, though less frightening this time. The translucent fin appeared in seconds, the scales extending upward to her waist again, and her legs vanished, replaced by that fantastic tail. She spread her fingers to find the webbing grew wide with the gesture and she smiled. I like my magic. With a quick flip of her tail, she shot toward the center of the lagoon.
The crater’s small lake was nothing like the open waters of the sea. No fantastic coral displays, no strange dimly seen shapes in the distance, no monstrous fish gliding overhead. Though there were fish. She swam through the middle of a small school and giggled as they darted out of her way. The lake was easy to cross and within minutes she was almost on the other side. She paused and looked around, then down.
Now, let’s find that cave. She swam down at an angle heading for a landmark rock, then swept along it. The sun cast sharp shadows into the water, obscuring the details, so she launched herself back into the sunnier waters and scanned the wall from a distance. She found only shadows.
Taja bit at her lip in thought and swam back to the cliff wall. Her tail’s motion stirred silt from the nooks of the rock, and a small cloud of soot billowed around her. She squinted through the dirt and moved slower.
Minutes passed without a trace of the cave’s entrance. Taja’s frustration brewed but she gritted her teeth and dove to the bottom of the lagoon.
A sudden flash caught Taja’s eye and she turned to see a sparkling creature gliding through the water toward her. She gasped. That thing looks like a snake! A big snake! With a glowing tail! Help! She flicked her tail and sailed backward, torn between getting away and not going too far from where the cave opening might be.
The creature nearly hit her, but only grazed her fin as it passed by, its spiny scales tearing at hers. Lady! Help! It’s a monster!
There was no reply.
Taja’s gaze caught the wiggle of the snake in the distance as it turned around and came back toward her, the luminescence of its tail casting shadows on the rocks. It was on her again in a flash, circling her, darting in and out, getting closer with every pass.
Taja narrowed her eyes, glared at the snake, and mentally screamed at it. Go away!
The snake’s eyes shimmered and Taja touched its thoughts with her own. It was… only curious? Wanted to know what I was? And I… scared it. A bit of sadness settled down on her heart as the creature wheeled around and fled into the darkness of the lake depths. I’m sorry… bye… She sighed then grew thoughtful and looked around. I wonder what else I can do?