Once upon a time, there lived the ruler as old as the sea, he was known as Neptune and ruled to waters with a just hand. One day while swimming through his kingdom’s waters near an island he met a woman whose hair was that of the old ship’s haul but had waves like that on the ocean’s surface. The two were married after knowing each other for a short time and lived in a cave near the sea, and they had a child together. But like all love stories, sadness finds its way into the hearts of the lovers. The woman longed for a new life but when she tried to leave with her child, Neptune stopped her. The two argued and words were said that might not have been meant, but the woman left the two in the end. Heartbroken, Neptune took the baby and left the cave. Before he dove down into the water, Neptune conjured up a storm that destroyed the cave; once it was nothing more than rubble, he and the baby sank into the waves.
Over the years later, the young baby grew up and was taught that because her mother was a human she could walk on land just as well as she could swim in the sea. The baby, a girl called Keola, grew up searching for something on the land and in the waters. She had hair the color of storm clouds and eyes like the scales of a blue tang fish. Her tail fin, gold scales that blended outward into green scales, was strong from the years of swimming. She swims from one shore to the next and searches the cities for something...or someone…
After years of searching the different lands, Neptune calls Keola back to his underwater palace where a feast is set up for her arrival. He sat at the head of the table looking over scrolls that three finned-men floated nearby held in their webbed hands. Other servants swam around the table, placing plates and silverware in front of empty chairs and others swam with plates full of sea-related items.
“Father,” her voice shakes as she sees the spread, “wha-what’s all this?”
“A celebration,” he replies.
“‘A celebration’?” she echoed.
“For your birthday, miss,” a servant said as they swam past with more dishes.
“B-but my birthday’s not for another...2 weeks,” she half-laughed. “So what’s this really about?”
Neptune sighed and place a scroll down, and lifted himself from his chair. The men near him drifted back so that he could rise without disturbance. Neptune slowly swam down the side where Keola floated; servants coming to the table stopped till he passed before returning to their task.
“Keo, darling,” he started, waving her over, “Your sixteenth birthday is a special time. Especially, since you are not fully of this world.”
“You mean because were with a human and not a fish,” she said with a tone laced with years of bullying for being “half in, half out”.
Neptune sighed, “I know you’ve been searching on the islands for your human mother.” he placed a hand on her shoulder once he reached her side, “but you need to understand, there will come a time where you will have to make a choice.” He then took his hand off and drifted away from her.
“What do mean?” she asked.
Neptune didn’t respond, instead, he waved the staff away and continued to drift in a subtle current through the room.
“Father!” she rose her voice for the first time in her life at him. “Father, what do you mean?”
Neptune sighs and finally turns to face his daughter, “When you turn sixteen, you will have to decide to if you want to remain on land and search for your mother,” he rung his fingers then rubbed his hands together, “or you choose to keep your abilities and rule the sea after me.”
Keola floated in that one spot in the room, she seemed to absorb the information that was just dumped on her like a ton of northern ice into the water below. “What are you saying?”
Neptune straightens his stature, rolled his shoulders back, and turned to her. “You must decide. If you cannot, then as ruler of the world’s waters, and as your father, I will make the decision for you.” His voice rung heavy with the same royal authority that he uses when addressing the war council.
Keola stared at him, anger beginning to boil up like the undersea volcanoes on the outskirts of the kingdom. He has never, not once in sixteen years, ever treated her in such a low standard, like a sea worm. She swam from the room like a tsunami, not stopping nor turning once when her father called for her to return. Through the corridors, past the guards, out the main gate, and into the dark waters of the ocean beyond the kingdom walls.
She swam through kelp forests, sand dunes, coral reefs, and sunken ships. Faster and faster, she swam; as if she were trying to swim off the face of the Earth. After what felt like hours, Keola finally stopped swimming. She stopped in the middle of a vast sand plain, an undersea desert; and for a moment, she rose her head up towards the surface and screamed. She screamed and cursed a swore to the depths of the deepest regions of the ocean the pain of this choose forced on her; and then she cried wishing her mother was with her, to help her make a choice, that she never left her. Keola sank to the sand and wept, sharks began to swim overhead, but none showed any indication of wanting to attack her; instead, they seem to be trying to comfort her. She looked up after one nudged her with their snot, they continued to circle but their circle seemed to widen with each pass.
Keola sat up and watched them, soon they broke ranks and swam off in different directions; except one, a 10-foot nurse shark with a bend in its first dorsal fin. It swam up to her then away then back to her again as if it were trying to tell her to follow it.
“Are to trying to take me somewhere?” she asked, confused by the shark’s movements.
And again the shark does the same series of movements: swimming towards her, away, and back again. Keola extended out her hand, “Show me.” she calmly asked the shark. It swam up to her hand and swam in the direction near where she came from, and Keola followed behind.
They swam for hours in the open water, Keola a few feet behind the nurse shark. The two swam a few feet below the surface, just enough for Keola to break through the ripples and see around them. After swimming for miles, the shark began to swim in circles around a reef.
“Is this it,” Keola asked, looking around at the reef. It was different from the ones she’d seen before. The reef looked as though it was growing on metal that humans had placed under the wave; basket-like structures with coral growing on the surface, and fish swimming in and out to the openings. “Why did you bring me here?”
The shark swam towards what looked like shallow waters then back to Keola before swimming back to the open waters and disappearing.
Confused, Keola swam to the shallow water and peeked out over the surface. She saw the beach covered in orange and brown sand, large rocks that seemed to have been washed up onto the shore from a storm, tables, and umbrellas near a wooden shake, a path leading into a forest, and people; lots of people. Keola swam to one side of the beach and found an abandoned towel and swimsuit cover. She waited for a wave to pushed onto the shore near the abandoned beachwear and grabbed the cover. Throwing it over her as her fin changed to legs, was able to cover herself from anyone who might have glimpsed at her.
She stood up and grabbed the towel, shaking the sand off of it before dabbing her hair dry. She walked up the beach towards the crowd and onto the slate path towards the forest, she walked with another crowd that was leaving the beach, seamlessly fitting in with them and “borrowing” a pair of sandals, glasses, and cash from a wallet. The group made it to a parking lot, where Keola finally broke away from them and headed towards the street.
She followed the road until she reached a town, where she found even more people wandering around. She walked through the area, looking around before she found a building with a sign that said “Police” in bold blue letters. She walked in, looked around for a moment, then went to the front desk.
“Excuse me,” she said to the officer behind the desk. The officer was writing something or tried to appear as being busy. “Excuse me,” she repeated louder.
Finally, the officer looked up, “What do you want?” the man said. He was older with a large mole on the side of his forehead, tanned and leathery looking skin, and a nose like a mussel shell.
“I’m looking for someone, is there a directory or something I can look through?” she asked, trying not to stare at his mole.
“Who are you looking for?” the officer grumbled as he pulled out a laptop and opened it. He typed a little, probably a password, then looked at her with a side-eye glance.
“A woman named ‘Darya’,” she said. “D. A. R.-”
“‘Darya’?” the officer repeated, then closed the laptop, “Why are you looking for Darya?” He looked at her with more anger than before when she interrupted his “work”.
“She’s my mother,” Keola responded calmly, “do you know where she is?”
“She over at the coffee shop across the way. “Bean Me Up” they call it,” he grumbled, “horrible name from a joint like that, but the coffee isn't half-bad.”
Keola thanked him and left the building, she crossed the street and stood outside the shop, looking through the windows; it was small but busy. She entered and waited in line for the register.
“Hi, what can I get ya’,” the cashier, a young boy with blond hair, seafoam eyes and tan skin asked with a smile.
“Darya,” Keola said, “I was told she works here.”
“What'cha wanna talk to her for,” he scoffed, leaning over the register.
“It’s important,” she said taking off the sunglasses and starring the boy in the eye, her deep tang blue eyes almost seemed to pierce through him.
The boy leaned back, “One sec.” then he walked to a few girls who were by machines that hissed and steamed. He whispered something to one of them, and the two walked back to the register.
“I’m Sofie, why are you looking for Darya?” the woman asked, she was pretty with short brown hair and caramel colored eyes.
“I have to talk to her,” Keola was starting to get upset with the run around she was getting.
“Look, kid, I’m Darya’s partner. Anything you can say to her, you can tell me and I’ll relay the message,” the woman said with a forced smile, “because as you can see we are very busy and Darya isn’t here right now.”
Keola growled under her breath, “Just tell her that Keola is here.”
The woman’s eyes widened, and took half a step back, “‘Keola?’” she echoed, then looked at the ground for a moment. She then waved her to the side. Keola followed her motion and stood in a less active area of the shop, “Wait here for a couple of minutes.” she said softly then walked away.
Keola just looked at the woman after she left, but did as she was told and stood off to the side. After twenty minutes or so, the rush had subsided and the women returned to Keola.
“Keola, right?” Sofie started, “Why are you here? Why are you looking for Darya?”
“I need to see her,” was all she was willing to tell the woman.
Sofie nodded, and untied her apron, “I’ll take you to her.”
Keola sighed in relief and followed Sofie out of the shop. Sofie yelled something through the door before closing it and leading Keola down the road towards the beach. They walked past the slated path that Keola had come from towards a hill with a single peach house on the summit.
When they reached it the top, Sofie opened the door and ushered Keola inside. The house smelt like flowers and had pictures of two women and children hanging on the walls. It was small, but it felt different from the sea palace; almost comforting.
“Sofie? Is that you?” a voice echoed through the house. Then a woman with dark hair tied in a loose side ponytail stepped around the corner. She stopped when she saw Keola, “oh, you should have told me we were going to have a guest. Welcome, I’m Darya.” she extended her hand to shake Keola’s. “Are you a friend of Sara and Sam? Or an employee at the sh-”
“Her name is Keola.” Sofie interrupted.
Darya’s face drained of color and stared wide-eyed at the young girl in from of her.
“Hi...mom…,” Keola said with a sheepish smiled. Then Darya fell to the floor.