Good Reef!

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Chapter 2

People had been gathering near the Wall for days now. The receding shoreline revealed the structure over a week ago and moved even further away in the following days. Could it be the beginning of another, as yet unknown, warning of the impeding doom? Starvation maybe? Fishermen couldn’t go out to sea anymore. Even if they could drag their boats over the soggy ground that used to be seabed, they couldn’t and wouldn’t try go over the Wall. How were fishing communities going to live without their trade? The algae, sea plants, fish; they were all, quite literally out of reach. Some shellfish, empty shells and such were strewn across the quickly drying miles of new land, but how long would they last?

The Wall stretched as far as the eye could see. People coming from other parts of the country said that it was emerging elsewhere as well. It seemed the whole continent was surrounded by it. Well, that was the popular thought anyway, since nobody knew if it could also be found on the other side of the Ice Plains to the North. Nobody ever bothered to go across them. You would’ve thought that maybe sometimes there’d be someone saying ‘I want to cross the Plains’, who to the question ‘Why?’ would reply ‘Because they’re there’. But that would be a wrong assumption. Firstly, they were just plains, nothing else there (presumably anyway and according to popular legends), so once you’d seen the rim – you’d seen it all. Secondly, every generation or so some ‘brave’ (stupid) explorer decided to see for themselves and never came back. And thirdly, people were just not that curious. Across all the lands of the continent, people were not interested in exploring. Actually, nobody was ever interested whether or not there even existed another continent, or other lands. There were legends of such, but people didn’t seem bothered to investigate. Some, not many though, actually realised that no boat had ever gone further into the sea than the mysterious Wall hidden beneath it. It was deep enough for people not to see it, or be bothered by it, and yet, somehow, it seemed to mark a sort of border. Nobody would admit to the feeling, but the further out to sea and the closer to the Wall people used to get, the more uneasy and frightened they’d become. Something inside them wanted to turn back. It was never talked about because people assumed that nobody else felt it. But everyone did. Apart from a very small group in each generation. They’d explore, go and see things, and just disappear. There was something different about them, and Bee was definitely different. Her name was actually Bealla but nobody called her that. Full of annoying little questions from a very young age and always exhibiting some hurried purpose, she earned her nickname rather quickly. And she had a secret. A secret, she was sure never to share with anyone. Bee had no idea, but one other person in the village knew, only they kept it to themselves. And possibly her mother also suspected but was smart enough not to mention it to anyone so as to keep her daughter close and safe. At least for as long as she still had some sort of authority with Bee. And Bee was growing up. Thirteen going on fifty, she had completely white hair and such pale skin, that on closer inspection you could easily notice all the veins crisscrossing underneath. Tall and lanky, she was still awkward but slowly developing a grace of movement that comes to women at some point in their teenage years (or at least to some). Her blue eyes were so bright, they were nearly white. Since she was so very pale, her eyes weren’t that out of place and nobody, apart from her mother, ever suspected that the girl was actually blind. But that never stopped her because she still had Sight. It was a different type of sight but served her well nonetheless. And she was sure she was bursting with magic but never seemed quite able to use it. Bee was full of childish curiosity and old wisdom and rarely did what was expected of her. For example, right now she was examining the Wall, even though she was not supposed to be anywhere near it. Every day people seemed to be gathering closer and closer. She never had any trouble in getting right up to the construction, however. Far away from the eyes of others, of course. It seemed that the strange repelling power the Wall had over everyone for centuries, maybe even millennia, was weakening with each passing day. She would ‘notice’ the remains of structures sometimes, jutting from the sand, and quick thoughts would race through her head - as always, too quick to ponder, but not quick enough as to be forgotten. She ‘saw’ more than thought about buildings that must have stood there very long ago, when the land was somehow higher and there was far more of it. And there were people and animals and life here once. Right here, on this sand, which just a few weeks ago was completely under water.

And there was the Wall. It was made of coral and appeared to be grown, as if by some underwater gardener. There were no other islands or patches of coral anywhere else. Just the Wall. And it was magnificent. Shining in many hues of white and red light and creating fantastic shapes, it was ten feet tall, stretched into the horizon each way and was so beautiful it always took her breath away. But it was hard to comprehend. How did it come to be? When? It must’ve been built by someone, but why? To keep something away? Or to keep us in? Was there another reason for building a wall, than to keep something in or out?

She reached out, touched the rough surface, and the Wall began to sing. It sang continuously every day, but when she touched it, the sound (was it sound?) became stronger and more palpable. The song seemed to always have been there. Certainly all her life, and there was no reason to suspect that it hadn’t been longer than that. Maybe ever since the Wall was built. The song it sang was a warning, and that’s why it kept people away. It was not aggressive, but so very, very sad, that it made all who heard it want to go home to their families and erase that sadness from memory. Whenever Bee touched the Wall, its music would become clearer as if it were trying now to tell the whole story rather than just pass on a warning. It brought tears to her eyes.

There was somebody there.

She turned around but felt no one. The miles of sand stretched out towards the land dotted only by the sad remains of old structures here and there. Not a soul around. And yet she clearly felt a presence there. She ‘saw’ people for what they were, through their feelings and emotions, which screamed so loud it was impossible for anyone to hide from her. She felt shapes and colours, and every thing in the world, dead or alive, had a shape and a colour to it. Be it from some forgotten magic or energy within, or from the emotions put into it by passing people or animals. Everything had a memory to it, and everything had a voice, and it was so very hard not to lose her mind, permanently surrounded by all this noise. Objects and animals were a kind respite to the never-ending shouting of human emotions. Bee suspected that the presence of the Wall so close to her village was the reason she hadn’t gone completely mad. Hidden under the sea, it sang to her all her life, and while others were scared, she was drawn to it as it made the surrounding screaming quieter and less invasive. And when she touched it for the first time, the constant drone at the back of her head was silenced. The noises from the village disappeared, and for the first time in her life she knew silence. Even the music died down for a moment. A certainty was born in her then that this particular stretch of the Wall was special. And she was right. Because every day more and more people arrived to gather in this small, fishing village in the forgotten and not-at-all-special province of the kingdom, while whole stretches of the coral stood unnoticed for thousands of miles, silent and lonely. Like the part she was touching now.

But there was a presence there, quite clear and palpable. Not menacing, just curious, like her. And she suddenly knew that there was someone on the other side touching the Wall just as she was. She felt their mind clearly and they noticed hers as well. And together they shared in this common discovery for a moment, not knowing what to do. Both curious and a bit cautious, stood divided by the Wall and yet nearly touching. The sudden happiness and relief that she was not alone in the world after all, and that there were others like her overwhelmed Bee with such force, she only felt the other person’s amused surprise before the girl’s eyes rolled right into the back of her skull.

When she came to, there was nobody there anymore. Good. She could cry out and dance around without an audience. Whatever people thought, there wasn’t anything evil behind the Wall. She knew it for sure.

That night at home Bee was too excited to sleep, so she sneaked out and sat on the beach trying to ignore the sounds of worry coming from nearly everyone in the area.

Every day there were more people in and around the village. They erected tents, built little huts or just slept on the ground. It was as if everyone was under some sort of a spell (which they were, but obviously had no idea) and worked together to organise the lives of a constantly growing group of people. There was never any question in the village whether or not to welcome and feed the guests but rather, how to do it. Parties of fishermen with underdeveloped hunting talents would take to the woods assisted by some of the more skilled new arrivals, and others would go into the wet sands of the seabed and search for shellfish and other edible creatures and plants.

Large bonfires were lit at night, and people gathered to eat and chat. They came from all over the province and some from even further away; they were soldiers, farmers, the wealthy and the not so well off, warriors and noblemen. There were even rumours that the king was on his way. Although why he would bother to travel such a long way when there was a perfectly good stretch of Wall right below his castle, who knew?

People of all types and creeds were coming towards the village of Blumenport, and worry was widely spread among them. The tremors were clearly a sign of impending doom, and the Wall must have something to do with it. But what? If something deadly was behind it, why hadn’t it shown itself? Wouldn’t just one big bang or rain of fire be a better end for everyone? Quick and merciful (well…)? Why prolong it with this torture of fear and uncertainty? And with all of their discussions, nobody ever asked why everyone felt compelled to come to the Wall. The witches and magicians among them did, but they mostly kept to themselves (cursed snobs) and bothered no one with their opinions.

Bee decided to stay away from everyone for the moment. The noise was getting worse with each new person arriving in the village, and she didn’t want to get noticed by any magicians. Who knew what they would do with her if they discovered her Sight. Take her away? And then what? Try and make a witch out of her? Stuck at the Academy, in such a small space with all those people and away from the calming music of the coral Wall? She didn’t think so.

Bee tried to stay out of sight and went to the woods a lot to help her family set traps (strangely enough she always knew where to put them) and search for edible roots and herbs. The Wall was constantly calling to her though, and she found herself sneaking back to it again and again. With so many people around, getting closer to the Wall with each passing day, it was becoming difficult, so she began to visit it at night. It was important that nobody knew.

The coral’s song was even more stunning at night. Its lights and music were much clearer and stung Bee with their beauty. She could feel the presence behind the Wall far clearer now. It appeared to be the same person she felt the last time, and they were also searching for her. She knew it even before reaching the coral. And without hesitation she grabbed a rough, sharp piece of the Wall and pulled herself up, towards some more pointy bits, which worked a little like steps on a ladder. The person on the other side was doing the same. After no time whatsoever, she felt the top of the Wall. It was surprisingly flat and hardly porous at all. The girl grabbed onto it with both hands and, carefully, lifted her chin above it. There was the top of somebody’s forehead poking over the Wall some six feet away. Very slowly a head emerged.

Bee never saw faces. She just recognised people for what they were and never knew what they really looked like. She saw general shapes and such, but the girl knew straight away that there was something very different about the head across from hers. It stared in her direction with disbelief and (could it be?) a little distaste. But the thoughts it sent were mostly full of friendly interest and excitement. And Bee replied in kind. She climbed further up and, scraping her knees on the rough coral, sat at her end of the Wall. There was a bit of a cold wind up there, and she regretted not taking a coat. The view across the Wall stretched far, and she felt the sea close by. The breeze carried some salty water with it and kept pulling on her hair with its moisture. It was like being reunited with an old friend. She lifted her face towards the breeze and inhaled with joy.

The peace and positive emotions coming her way were so comfortable, she nearly forgot about the person now sitting opposite to her. And that’s when she realised that it wasn’t a person. It was a creature with only a general man-like shape, but undeniably not a man at all. Its eyes were much larger and wider apart, it appeared to have no nose or ears but a rather impressive mouth full of pointy teeth. The colour it emanated others would call bluish-grey, and it seemed to have webbed hands and feet with long, widely spread fingers and toes. Her first reaction was fear, and that appeared to have scared and hurt the creature, who cowered for a second and covered its head with its hands. Instantly, Bee felt completely ashamed and stupid. How must she look to the person (well not really a ‘person’ but the word ‘creature’ seemed rude) sitting next to her? Was that why he (as he had a definite aura of ‘him’) felt a little distaste but hid it rather quickly? And he never gave her any reason to be afraid. But here she was, so rude and offensive. Bee believed she was different and never judged people for how they looked (how could she – being blind after all) but she just followed in the shameful footsteps of her own kind. Her apology was wordless but obvious and was graciously accepted (even if with a hint of resentment).

And a friendly silence took over, removing all the sounds and thoughts for a while, because this was a singular moment in history, and even the breeze felt it. They just sat there surrounded by a held breath of anticipation coming from everywhere around them. Something grand and important was expected of the pair because their actions would influence future generations. Some magnificent or symbolic gesture. Something…

Bee sniffed, wiped her running nose with the back of her hand and then cleaned that off with her skirt. It was getting rather chilly. The person in front of her seemed absolutely fine with it. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he, what with being a water creature and all. A water person, she corrected herself.

‘Do you have a name?’ she asked, but he just seemed amused by her speech. ‘I’m Bealla. But everyone calls me Bee… Bee’, she repeated pointing to herself. ‘Bee’.

Understanding dawned on him and in response, pointing to himself, he sent her thoughts that arranged themselves into shapes and colours, which she assumed were his name. Then he pointed at her and didn’t even try to speak but instead showed her a white and pink mixture of colours that fit her name. She never really thought about it, but names did have a certain colour and shape to them. After all, they carried so much meaning, emotion and magic, but since she never had to actually see them, she never looked. How silly of me, she thought. And here it was. Her name. At least the way he saw it.

‘You don’t have a language, do you?’ she asked. ‘Well, I suppose it makes sense what with you living under water and all. I always thought people communicate pretty well with their thoughts, don’t you think? If they arrange them coherently that is. But the problem is, nobody hears them anyway. I seem to be the only one… I’m very glad to have met you, you know. Someone else, who can see like I see... Do you want me to stop talking now?’

The meaning of the question was quite obvious to the listener, who smiled revealing an impressive row of incredibly sharp-looking teeth. Bee smiled in response, and reached out her hand expectantly. At first her new friend, whom in her head she now called Eeliah, since his name felt like it (it did have a bit of an eel to it) wasn’t sure what to do with it, but then slowly reached his out and let Bee squeeze it. His skin was very smooth and the webs between his extremely long fingers tickled her skin.

‘Well, there you have it,’ she thought ‘a meeting of two races. We’re something akin to ambassadors now, aren’t we?’

At that moment Eeliah shared more with her than anyone else ever had. He showed her a shared consciousness of a whole race, and for a split second she felt all of them in the waters nearby. Hundreds and thousands of them. She could now feel not only the emotions coming from the village behind her but also from the water in front of her. A whole civilisation unknown to anyone on land. There were legends of people noticing strange creatures jumping out of the water or just floating about but, not surprisingly, nobody ever saw one from up close. Obviously the repelling magic of the Wall worked both ways. It kept those on land away from the deep sea and the sea people from the land. And now she felt them. All of the combined noises from both sides took over from the silence of the coral, and for the second time in just a few days Bee thought she was going to faint. So, since she was always true to her word and avoided being a liar, she did just that.

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