“Little sister, let’s go outside!” Avery’s shadow jumped around the room excitedly. “Come on, come on! I wanna see the water!”
“You go ahead. I’m comfortable right here.” Avery sat on her bed with her legs folded under her.
Avery frowned and let out a huff of unnecessary air. “Come now, when were we last on a boat?”
“Six moons and two years ago, when Count Tergin thought a pretty river ride might soften me.”
“A lifetime past! This is a different boat with different people…” She took a deep breath. "This is a proper riverboat, smooth wood and strong sails. It is not water that chokes between forest, but a river that majestically rushes to the sea."
“I nearly drowned.”
“You didn’t drown. Besides, that was our goal then. Now is different.”
Avery glared at her ghost.
Her ghost glared back. “Do you not remember? How the waves danced and laughed their freedom, just out of reach—”
Avery closed her eyes as if to shut out the sound, but her ghost’s voice was neither visible nor audible, and could not be shut out.
“Our last living hope died when Kiva ignored us at the market, Jaiden had long since left the country, and there was no one left to notice or care. The waves were such a thing of beauty, remember? So strong, so wild, so free.”
“You go. Enjoy the sights.”
“I really don’t—”
“Please? Let these waters erase the old, make new memories. For me? If not for me, for...”
Avery looked around her small cabin. “I like this room. The wood is harmonious with the water, like the gentle rocking of a swaying tree. Or an old carriage.”
“Remember all those dreadful carriage rides? That’s no better. Come, don’t be cowardly. If you give in once--” shadowy teeth bit into shadowy lips and a phantom wrinkle formed on a shadowy brow.
“It isn’t cowardice,” Avery said, weakly defensive. “I know my limitations. You go first. I’ll come later, when I’ve gotten used to the idea.”
“I can’t leave you here with—Besides, it won’t be magical without you.” Her shadow smiled at her, an expression of sad acceptance. “I cannot feel the spray, nor hear clearly the splash of water. Even the colors are muted. Please come? We won’t stay long, the sailors say it is likely to storm.”
Avery took a deep breath and nodded. She unfolded her legs and stood on the wood floor, her body tense as if she might fall at any moment.
“It’s barely moving, see?” Shadow Avery waited by the door.
Avery took the three small steps in seven and opened the door cautiously. In the calm before the storm, the deck was peaceful. The sailors had made ready the ropes and left to rest while there was little to do. Avery stepped out hesitantly and made her way slowly to the nearest railing, following her dancing shadow. The bright moon lit the way, stars sparkling brightly over the sleepy riverbank. This river sparkled a much bluer blue than the algae-tainted water she remembered. It barely seemed to move, gently carrying their little boat towards the sea.
“See! It’s beautiful, and this river isn’t anything like the one Tergin’s guard threw you into.”
Avery felt a firm hand on her shoulder and flinched, falling into the railing. At the same time, a wave splashed over the deck, soaking her.
A sailor caught her as she hurtled towards the deck and her haunted memories.
“Aevie!” The translucent hand caught something smooth and cool, and the world froze around her. Avery blinked and looked down at the locket, saw a world of green grass and warm sunshine through her sister’s eyes. Gently, she lifted it away, releasing her shadow to fall back through the deck before she caught herself and solidified. "Aev?"
“Princess, are you well? A storm comes, you should return to your cabin.”
The princess waved her hand, more an indication of distraction than an acknowledgment of his words. Satisfied he had done his duty, forgetting that the princess did not speak his language, he left her to return to his post, watching for the storm.
She held the locket with her fingertips, feeling its quiet power. Her own was weak, still drained from all she had done in the palace. But the moon was high, and the storm on the wind whispered sweet promises of strength. “Come, sister. You wanted to feel the waves,” she held out her hand with a smile.
The princess stood against the railing watching the rise and crash against the little riverboat, lifting it high and letting it fall. Soon the rain, at first a distant melody, filled the air, soaking her dress to her skin. The wind sang, pulling the ribbon from her hair to fly away. She watched it go, one arm reaching out as if to catch it, saw the chaos soak into her bare skin.
How warm it is!
A wave splashed over the princess, and the hand that did not clutch the wooden talisman found the railing to hold her position.
How cold! A laugh filled her mind, seemed to echo with the wind around her.
The sailors had secured the lines and sails and one was making her way slowly to the drenched princess. She tied a rope around the princess and tried to persuade her toward the hatch that led below deck.
Stronger than she appeared, Avery resisted and murmured, “Just a little more…”
The sailor looped the rope around another rail and left her, trusting the strength of her knots to keep her safe from the fury of the storm.
The moon had disappeared above thunderous clouds, but the power of the midnight hour was no less for it, its magic filling air and water, and the girl. Only when the wind and waves abated did she sink to the deck, a serene smile on her lips, her whole form glowing with potential. The light receded until only a faint glimmer left its traces on her blue veins, and the girl leaned against the railing and slept, raindrops like dew shining on her skin as the clouds drifted away to reveal the brilliant moon.
Out from the crystal shores of the little sparkling pool the forest spread densely. Lit by a bright sky of fluffy clouds, the only inhabitant slept a quiet, dreamless sleep. At the edges of her paradise, if she were to wake and see it, rosewood trees formed a dark, impassible barrier of thick trunks and cold magic. But the sleeper did not notice, nor did she wake.