Aria stared at the oyster, eyes thin and focused, tail waving slowly behind her. In one hand, she held a stone, washed smooth by the sea. With her other, she moved aside the kelp of the forest, letting her clearly see her goal.
There was little light this deep in the ocean, but what was cast down by the Sky Pearl would dance across any surface that let it. It set the blue-green scales of Aria’s tail aflame, and the pearl she was hunting seemed to shine like a star in the oyster’s mouth.
Aria moved closer, careful to disturb the water as little as possible. She knew she wasn’t strong enough to pry open an oyster’s mouth—she needed to catch it unawares.
She was close now. She bit her lip. Her hand gripped the rock tighter.
She lunged—body uncurling like a spring, one hand shoving the rock into the oysters mouth while the other grabbed at the pearl. The shell clamped shut around her arms—or tried to. There was a rock in the way, after all.
Carefully, she snaked her arm out, holding her prize up. It was a pinkish color—unusual for a pearl—and slightly oblong. All in all …
Well, it was nice enough, she supposed. She had seen a lot of pearls in her time—her parents made a living off of them—and this one wasn’t anything special. She sighed, and put it in her kelp satchel, along with the other two she had gotten today. Her hair, the same color as her scales, drifted down to lay flat against her head.
She tilted her eyes upwards, watching the thin light filter down between the leaves. Her gut ached, in a faint sort of way, as she was struck with a sudden bout of melancholy. It felt like she could do more than this. Like she should do more. For a moment, the ocean seemed to unfold around her, and the pearls in her satchel seemed like grains of sand on the ocean floor.
Aria shook her head, trying to put the thoughts behind her as she began the swim back home. Nonetheless, as the kelp forest thinned around her, and the Great Light—the Sky Pearl—shined brighter, she began to wonder …
Aria’s tail whipped behind her in a harsh motion as she set out. Her eyes flicked up, then down, then up again, eyeing the thin light filtering through the water, of the newly risen Sky Pearl. Her family’s home faded behind her as she swam towards the forest of kelp, and her satchel was once more empty.
She stopped, just before the forest’s entrance, looking around her. No one else was in sight.
It wasn’t like what she was about to do was forbidden, exactly. It was just, well.
Who would be stupid enough to try and take the Sky Pearl?
Or rather, who would be bold enough? Yes, she liked the sound of that better.
With deep breath through her neck-gills, she shot upwards. Her hands scooped the water, fighting against her own weight. It was … surprisingly easy, for all that she had worried over this moment, and she was soon higher than she had ever been. She paused for a moment, hanging in the deep blue, and watched the lights of her village below—dozens of enchanted pearls shining in parody of the great one above. To her right, the kelp forest loomed—she had never realized quite how tall it was before, the stalks reaching towards the sky like waving arms. Her heart quieted, and her breathing slowed. With a kick of her tail, she was moving upwards once again.
It was noticeably brighter when she reached the top of the forest, a sea of green stretching out before her. But she was close, she could feel it—literally, the light of the Sky Pearl warming the ocean around her.
Suddenly, something pushed her, the ocean itself slamming into her. She flailed for a moment, twisting and righting herself, before the waters dragged at her once again, throwing her away. It was the currents, she realized. This high, with no dunes of sand or forest of kelp to protect her, they were much, much stronger.
She grit her teeth. The ocean pushed at her again, and she pushed back. Her hands tore at the water, and she rose, higher.
Soon, even the forest seemed small beneath her, and her own village was practically invisible. It was higher than she had ever been—higher than she had known existed. The ocean stretched around her, seemingly endless, but she swam onwards, through the currents and up into the light.
She wondered, idly, what she would find at the ocean’s edge. What would surround the Sky Pearl. Would there be a great clam, with jaws wide enough to swallow the world? A band of chiseled stone, crafted by the gods, to hold it in place? She was struck by doubt, suddenly. Would she even be able to dislodge the sky pearl? Would she be smote down for trying? Would—
And suddenly, she was there. She broke through the water, and something horribly dry and cold and fast stung her face. What had once been bright was now blinding, and she shut her eyes. She gasped, but her gills drew in no water. She choked, and heaved, her heart beating a mile a minute, until finally, she sank back into the water below her. The waves buffeted her, pushing her down, down, down, and this time, she did not push back.
She eased open the door to her home, hair bedraggled and satchel empty.
Her father was just inside, sitting in his favorite chair, head back, relaxed. He looked at her when she came in, then he blinked, and looked again.
“Little song? Are you alright?” His voice was a deep, resonant rumble.
“I—yes. I just couldn’t find any pearls today.”
He looked closer at her eyes, still stung by the light, at her gills, still pumping water a bit too fast, at her skin, once pale, now reddened by the harsh light. He relaxed incrementally, and a small smile tugged at his features.
“Mmm. Went for the big prize today, did you?”
It was her turn to blink in surprise.
He laughed, deep and affectionate.
“The Sky Pearl. You went after it today, didn’t you?”
She looked away, red coloring her cheeks, still floating awkwardly in the doorway.
“Yeah … how did you know?”
“Why, I tried the same thing when I was your age. How did you think?”
She stared incredulously, and he laughed again, pulling her into his arms like he did when she was young—well, younger.
“That was how I met your mother, you know …” he continued, heedless of her incredulous look. “She caught me sneaking back into the village. Knocked me upside the head for my stupidity, once she had learned what I tried to do.”
He smiled fondly.
“Oh … ” She smiled at him, but her heart wasn’t in it. “I supposed … I just wanted to …”
“To make a difference?” He completed her sentence, his voice gentle, and warm.
He breathed out.
“Oh, little song. I thought the exact same thing, back then.” He paused for a moment, considering his words. “What I have learned, in my years, is that life is about what you have, not what you don’t. Your family. Your friends. The things in front of you. This is what matters. Let the rest of the world turn as it will—some things can’t be changed. Some things aren’t worth trying to change.”
“So, that’s it? Just don’t try?”
“Of course not.” he shook his head. “But keep in mind where to try. Don’t waste your energy on those parts of the world that are permanent.” he looked her straight in the eyes, then. “You matter. You make a difference to us, me and your mother, every day, just by existing. You are the light of our lives. Don’t … throw that all away to chase some dream, alright?”
She smiled at him, nodding, and it was a truer thing this time.
“Come in, Aria. Dinner will be ready soon, and I hear your mother is preparing something scrumptious!”