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The cave was cold and dark even in summer, yet it hid my people from the horror at the surface.

I extended my chin upwards, following the long, beamed rays to the holes in the ceiling; each beam lighting the blue icicle-shaped salt deposits that hung from the roof and the tapering mounds that extend from the floor, glimmering like sapphires and diamonds. I hugged my knees mournfully.

At one time, I found the caves beautiful; when first we arrived three years ago. But now I thought of it as a prison. How I yearned to be back on the bright isles, where I could watch the sun dip behind the horizon, turning the sky and the ocean bright with oranges and reds. It was then that the isles would come to life; the gulls chattered, the palm trees swayed, and the turtles beached while the tide advanced with the peeking moon.

"If only I could go back," I whispered. "If only there was a way."

I plopped my chin down upon my knees and shivered. Three years we'd been there, and still I hadn't grown accustomed to the cold. I glanced down at my milk white palms, then to my milk white legs. I've only been out of the water for a day and I was already starting to prune. My lips twisted as I stood, tugging the grayish, black spotted seal robe to bring my body warmth.

It always took me an hour to gain the courage to soak, and on this day was no different. I took a deep breath and walked towards the rounded opening in the floor. "Being from the ocean, one would think I'd be eager to swim." I shook my head, peering down at the pool.

The water was not the crystal clear blue seen at the isles, but a dark, cloudy blue that hid whatever lurked below the surface. Though the only aquatic monsters of the north were in my mind. The landwalkers are what I should truly fear. But I've never seen one and always questioned their existence.

At the edge of the pool, I unlaced my robe, allowing it to fall to my heels, leaving my petite frame bare. I stepped around it, took another breath, and stared at the blue abyss. The water was still ... almost frozen. And even though I hadn't submerged, the cold met my skin, leaving my hairs raised and flesh bumpy.

I reached behind my head and slid out the three-pronged shell from my hair. The bundle atop my head rolled, unknotting, allowing my golden strands to brush across my shoulders, draping down to my buttocks and across my small, perky breasts, concealing my pink, pointed areolas. It took three strokes from my finger and two shakes of my head to get my hair to sit correctly; resting to both sides of my face; the tips curled like the crest of waves.

My stomach churned. The blue in my eyes darkening, watching the pools. "The Sqek cannot find us here," I reminded myself. "Father has assured us of that. There's nothing to fear," I whispered, trying not to stir the water. My heart told me otherwise with each thud. "Remember that."

Images of slick, slender appendages, whipping from the pool, trying to snatch me and carry me off into the depths of darkness, came and went. And after three long breaths and a few more words of endearment, I found my courage. It was easier to just take the plunge and get it over with. That would be something my sister Marina would've done. But I was not as careless as she was. Instead, I knelt and slowly dipped my right foot into the water. The cold struck like a thousand needles. After I'd grown numb to the pain, I sat on the cold, biting stone, and submerged my left foot. It was slow moving from there, holding myself steady as my pale legs, buttocks, torso, then breasts vanished below the surface. I cried out with each icy shock.

The salt in the water burned my flesh. Not a hot summers' burn, nor the burn from a flame, but a cool, healing burn. I smiled warmly, allowing my hands to glide across my arms and torso, to my buttocks and legs; every part of me now slick.

"Just keep your eyes closed ..."

I took a breath of sharp, icy air lifting off the surface. My chest felt tight, muscles constricted. The sun did not warm the oceans here as they had on Bright Isles; often lost behind the gray clouds that blanketed the sky ocean. I often wondered if that's why our blessings were few; The Corlandian Gods could not swim through the haze to answer our prayers. I prayed nonetheless.

"Gods of the coral, help me find peace beneath the waves." And with that, I went under.

The icy shock to my face wasn't near as fierce as the one to my body. I touched my cheeks gently, massaging along the ridges, across my forehead, the bridge of my nose, over and inside my ears, and around my chin, ensuring each tiny crevice filled with the salt of the sea. The burn came shortly after, followed by the slickness.

I resurfaced, and with a gentle whip of my head, slapped my dark blonde strands against my chest. It hung past my breast, and beyond my hips, where it wadded into clumps.

I then reached for the rock edge; It happened in a blur; a great tug on my right ankle. Before I could draw breath, I sank, arms outstretched, reaching towards the hazy film above that marked the surface. The grip tightened, and though I was slick, jerking and kicking did nothing. Whatever had a hold of me would not slip nor flounder. It only wrenched and tugged harder, yanking me deeper into the hazy blue. The air turning to toxin inside my lungs while the pressure and the weight of the ocean pushed on my body like the claws of a gargantuan crab.

I opened my eyes, and they burned from the salt, unavoidable without my aquatic lenses. And though blind, I peered downward to see my captive. Why I'd look upon the one who'd take my life was a mystery. It'd be the last thing I'd see. And yet all I could find were hundreds of small and large circular pockets of air that moved around me, heading to pop and die at the surface.

I pulled my free leg upward, and with my last bit of will, brought it down with the force and speed of a sinking anchor. That did it. I felt relief at my ankle, but I was not safe just yet. Knowing this, I brought my legs together and extended my arms overhead, bringing my hands to a point. It only took three lateral, wavelike movements to get my body to push away from the abyss. And in less than three seconds I'd shot up twenty feet, breaking the surface with a group of bubbles. I gasped for air. On the second breath, I filled my lungs in fear of being taken back under.

I looked to the nearest edge of the pool and paddled towards it in haste. My hands found the stony edge, and as I pushed myself upward, my ears caught a noise at my back. Not a threatening hiss or haunting shriek ... No ... But a mocking giggle that seemed to echo and enhance off the cave walls.

Suddenly, the fear that surged throughout my body, causing my muscle to tense and cramp, faded, replaced by a sense of exasperation. I knew who the giggles belonged to, even before I turned to face the girl wading three feet away. A girl with short, wavy hair, yet held the same dampened, golden glow as I did.

I blinked, staring at the girl as though I was staring at my reflection; yet this one had shapened. Her eyes were glossy, large, and blue as sapphires while her face shined of jelly. And though I had not touched her, I knew she was as slippery as an eel.

It was my twin.

After a long look, I brought my eyes down to the girl's jellied, paled flesh. Following it to the surface where ripples deviated and blurred her lower frame. Yet even still, I could see what caused the water to stir. Beneath my sister's torso was a green, narrowing blur that danced beneath her; attached to her waist - No, not attached - it was a part of her; a long, single, fishy appendage that replaced her delicate, pale pair of legs.

"Marina, have you lost your mind?" I flicked my wrist, spurting water. A direct hit. Marina giggled as the liquid slid down her face. I pointed upward, "What if one of them had seen you?"

Marina shrugged and tilted her head, smirking, while her teeth glowed like pearls. "What if they had?"

"We'd have to flee far from here. Or have you forgotten the consequences?"

"Forgotten? No. Care? Not at all."

Marina giggled and slipped out of sight. An abrupt current caused me to bob while it passed. She reappeared a foot away. The smell of summers' algae lingering off her flesh. She crossed her arms on top of the rock bank, and set her head down, looking upon me with pleading eyes.

"What is it?" I asked, preparing my heart. "I know that look. You're about to tell me something I don't want to hear."

"Grouper and I are going to the Loch tomorrow. It would be good of you to join us-"

"The Loch!" My voice bounced around the cave. I let it fade, then found a neutral tone. "Have you lost your head?"

Marina slid her cheek against her arm, smiling. "Are you not tired of this confinement?"

"I have my books," I shook, as if that had the power to keep her still. But I knew not even her father had that power. "If I need to leave, I'll just use my imagination-"

Marina giggled and pushed off the edge, kicking with her appendage. The force brought her center pool where she bobbed, glowing and beautiful. She eyed the roof where the light shown down upon her.

"I do not have your mind," she said, with the notes of melancholy. "I must see to imagine."

I resisted the urge to swim out to her, fearing Marina's tricks. She always was causing trouble at their father's dismay. Going to the Loch would be no different, bringing him more grief, who'd then bring down the trident upon us for good. They couldn't risk it.

"Do you not recall what happened last time we went?"

"I do." Marina nodded, eyes still holding focus on that memory. "But it was three years ago-"

"Something came through that ice."

"And what do you think that was? A surface walker?"

"I don't know." I trembled. "I never looked back. It came after us, though. I know this much to be true."

"Well, I had looked back," Marina said with pride. "What I saw was a man of fur."

I raised an eyebrow, "you've never spoken of this ... was it one of them?"

Marina's silence told of me she was uncertain. "Grouper and I are going to find them. He has seen them and has assured me of their existence."

"Grouper is also a liar and very fond of you," I reminded her. "Why would you do something so reckless?"

"Because," Marina replied,. "Maybe they can help us defeat the Sqek. And we can then return home."

"Home? This is our home now."

I kicked away from the edge, "Death and uncertainty only awaits for us at the surface."

"I've heard Uncle Malos and father speaking," Marina's words found their mark. I bobbed, attentive. "Uncle told him that with the help of Surface Walkers we can regain the isles."

"Not true ..."

"It is!"

Marina glided as she paddled around me, causing a wake that trapped me like a sharp fin circling prey. I glanced to the shoreline, wishing I'd never left the safety of the bank. There I could've avoided her madness. Now I'd have to listen.

"They are of the land," I said, "And cannot swim as we do."

"This is true." Marina's smirk grew devious while her blue eyes grayed, displaying a haunting look of mischief. "But they have ships."

MY face twisted at the unfamiliar word. "And how can these ships help us?"

Marina stopped and allowed their eyes to meet. "Their ships can glide on water."

"How?"

"I don't know. Some unknown sorcery ... but with sorcery that powerful, don't you think they could defeat the Sqeks?" My throat tightened. Marina swam closer, neck outstretched, lips drawing close enough to kiss. She whispered, "And wouldn't you like to find out? I know I would."

Marina giggled and sank, leaving the surface still and me alone to ponder my thoughts.

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ErichW

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