A shining aquamarine day.  The light so bright it hurt in a way that is only possible in a country with a shoreline on a warm, shallow sea.  To her right along the beach, Clair could see concrete and flesh, all baking and blistering beneath the impossibly hot solar onslaught.  It battered the crown of her head and her shoulders with indifference as she turned away from humanity in mild disappointment.  To her left, the pale crescent of the beach petered out, replaced by rocks of caramel and cinder toffee, crowned with lush green which waved in the offshore breeze.  The battle between the two opposites standing eternal and balanced, united twice a day against the mercurial attentions of Mother Oceania.

Heart swelling with something that transcended joy and approached oneness, Clair’s slow barefoot progress led her from soft, toe-curling sand to sharp, wincing gasps at every step.  Her seasoned soles matched any tarmac or pavement the manmade world could throw at her, but the shoreline was so much more direct in its raw assault that it always took her by surprise.  She was grateful in a way; this daily reminder to caution had saved her from familiarity bred foolishness on more than one occasion.  Wincing and gasping, she continued where tourists feared to tread, until the coast curved once again, and the only colours in her world were palest blue, jewellest aqua, deepest green, and sweetest burned and bubbled sugar.  The rhythmic white noise of the waves hissing and hushing rapidly cleared her mind of everything except sensation; a solitude and peace far more profound than mere dark and pitiful silence.  Clair longed for this place, for this state.  She refused to think of the world behind her, just around the coast.  Focussing instead on the smell of her sun-heated skin, the noise of air and water, the feel of the rocks beneath her feet and backside as she slowly, carefully, gingerly lowered her body to perch on a smoother piece of rock.  Hugging her knees and gazing unseeing at the horizon, she drifted.

How long she squinted at the impossible horizon, Clair never knew.   However, she awoke from her trance to a feeling of time.  With no-one to watch, no-one around to see her natural awkwardness, and filled with the peace of the elements, she rose with unaccustomed grace and hopped effortlessly from rock to rock until she reached the limnal zone where earth and water met, and dove into the arms of her mother.

Here the drop-off was sudden and steep.  The aqua around her shaded to deep midnight as she pulled her way through the water.  There were caves, here, under the rocks; passages and caverns and grottos to explore.  Stunning yet treacherous, the formations invited like the bright colours and irresistible perfume of deadly flesh-eating flowers.  These rocks ate flesh, too.  Often just a bite at a time though, for they were slow to snap and could not catch their prey by speed.  They had to use stealth.  The ancient ways had been lost, and the blood of humans no longer flowed down here with any regularity, so the rocks took what they could get.  Opening her gills, though, Clair knew that she was safe.  She was not, after all, entirely human.  She had enough of the ocean in her blood to taste far too much like their neighbour, friend and enemy.  The rocks generally left her alone, unless they wanted to play rough, that is.  Clair could sense the feistier moods, so she was adept at avoiding their roughhousing most of the time.  Not all the time, and she had the scars to prove it, but most.

With a sinuous motion utterly unfamiliar to her skinwalking self, she dove for the deepest, darkest caves.  Navigating by pressure sense alone, now, she swam through caves and passages, deeper and deeper into the heart of the rocks, until she emerged into a vast open space.  Here she halted, on the very edge of the void.  Settling herself against the wall, she extended her senses.  By the movement of the water, she knew that they were gathering.  She had no doubt that they knew she was there but, kind as they were, they paid her little attention.  They knew she was one of them yet not, so they allowed her to listen.  Occasionally, she would join in with their sweet, sweet music.   Most of the time, though, Clair could only listen in wonder to the beauty they made when they raised their voices in song.  Individually and collectively, the art that they made, down here in the dark, was like nothing else Clair had ever heard.  It touched her so deeply that she could barely express how.

Though she didn’t belong here, not really, her heart still called it home.

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