Of the Dust

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Interlude: Lessons on the Sea

“What are you doing?”

“Studying the sea.”


“Because it’s green.”

The little girl giggled.

“Of course it’s green. It’s the sea!”

An indulgent smile.

“Of course.”

The Shōllyo continued her examination of the tide pool, pulling a different instrument from her bag and inserting it in the water. The girl shuffled forward next to the Shōllyo. She settled beside the older woman, the rocky ring of the tide pool digging into her knees, to gaze down into the water with the utmost concentration.

Two fwei eels disturbed the still surface of the water. Their heads poked into the air, beady little orange eyes glittering at the intruders casting shadows on their territory.

“Why is the water green?” the girl asked as the eels ducked back beneath the surface.

“Because of the algae.”

“Algae? What’s that?”

“Tiny little plants that grow in the water.”

“I don’t see any plants.”

“That’s because they’re so small. Smaller than a grain of sand.”

“That’s stupid. Nothing’s smaller than a grain of sand.”

Another indulgent smile. “How foolish of me. I bow to your superior knowledge, Twóshōllyo.”

Twóshōllyo!?” the girl cried. Her eyes glittered brighter than the fwei eels’ in delight. “In that case, you measly Shōllyo, I command you to craft a tale for dinner tonight. A tale about plants tinier than grains of sand which turn the sea…”

“What’s it like where you’re from, Shōllyo?”

“…Very different, but somehow exactly the same.”

“That’s not much of an answer…”

The Shōllyo turned to the girl, no longer so little. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific. Asking me what my home is like—well, that’d be like asking you what the sky is like.”

A thoughtful silence.

“What color is the sea?”

“…What makes you ask that?”

“Seasons ago, you were studying the sea. Because it was green, you said. Why, unless it’s some other color?”

The Shōllyo smiled at the girl. “What a brilliant deduction, Seishōllyo.” She looked away, up at the stars, for a long moment. “The place I come from… the sea is color of the sky.”

“How do you tell the difference between the sea and the sky, then?”

A chuckle. “Sometimes it can be hard. The sky changes color, and the sea changes with it. Some days, I can’t even find the horizon with how they mesh. And at night, there is no horizon to find. Sky and sea merge into one: an obsidian blackness, without any moons to light the water’s surface.”

“What about the stars? The night sky is filled with stars, even when the moons are hidden.”

“The place I come from, the stars are difficult to make out. Villages are so large, the light they produce drowns out the stars’.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever laid at the foot of the fire pit and attempted to look at the stars through the embers?”

“Yeah… Now that I think about it, it is difficult to see past the fire’s red light.”

“Yes. But in my homeland’s villages, there are so many fires, all so bright, that it’s difficult to see the stars past their light from any perspective. That’s one reason I like it here by the Inseia Sea so much.” Her teeth glinted in the moonlight. “There are so very many stars to see.”

“Why do you never dance?” The girl was now a young woman, her ever inquisitive voice deep.

“I don’t wish to intrude.”

“That’s ridiculous. Intrude? Even when those strangers from across the Sea visited two seasons ago they danced.”

“True.” The Shōllyo leaned back on her palms, fingers digging into the sand. “I suppose… I suppose it’s because I’m worried that, since I don’t know all the steps, I’ll ruin it.”

“You’ve watched us dance for so many seasons now. How could you not yet know the steps? At the very least, you could show us how people dance where you’re from, like those strangers.”

“I suppose I could. But I promised I wouldn’t.”

“…Why? Sharing the dances of other villages—that’s the Way.”

“Because my village doesn’t dance like the other villages. Our dance is as foreign as our seas, and I don’t want to taint your dance with ours.” A sigh. “Although, I suppose, really, I’ve already tainted quite a lot.”

The young woman eyed the Shōllyo for a long moment. “What you’ve been teaching me, you mean. That’s…’tainted’ me?”

“In a way. Had I never come here, you wouldn’t have learned of my homeland’s sky-colored seas. You would only know of the green waters of the Inseia Sea. I planted that thought in your head, when, really, I had no business doing so.”

“Is it supposed to be a secret? The place you come from.”

The Shōllyo gave a much heavier sigh this time. “Yes—no. Kind of. It’s…complicated.”

The young woman laid on her back in the sand. “Everything is complicated.”

For a long time, only the wind and the sea spoke. A foreboding tower of clouds loomed in the distance.

“The winds are shifting,” the Shōllyo said darkly. Somehow, the young woman knew she wasn’t talking about the storm clouds.

“Times are changing,” she agreed.

“And my time here is ending.” The young woman froze. “I’m sorry, Seishōllyo, but I have to leave soon. To return to my homeland. The Shōllyo there are waiting for me to tell them my stories. They’ve been waiting for far longer than I originally promised.”

“…Will you come back? After you’ve told them your stories?”

The Shōllyo didn’t respond, but that was answer enough.

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