“Do not speak his name!”
The cry came from across the way, from the man who leaned beneath the shade of a great palm.
The woman he’d called to turned away from the little girl by her side, to whom she’d been speaking, and turned to the man. When she saw who it was, she smirked.
“Why not?” she asked. “He’s long dead. Are you afraid he’ll come for your other arm?”
She approached him, for it was him she had come seeking.
He did not move, but his eyes did, dropping to peer at the girl.
The girl’s own eyes were seeing him.
And seeing beyond him.
The man’s head recoiled just a bit, and he looked up at the woman. “Hello, Melpo. What brings you do my doorstep?”
The smirk left the woman’s face. “I’m sure you’ve heard the news. A new journey is to set forth to the island. A new hunt for the jewel. I have joined it.”
The man frowned, but he did not appear surprised. “Did you take my foolishness, and I your wisdom?”
“I have good reason. But that is none of your concern. I have come here to entreat you to be our guide.”
The man’s gaze dropped to the girl again. “Your mother and I were friends once, little one. Did you know?”
“My name is Daphne.”
The man smiled and bowed his head. “So be it. And mine is Nestor. I held you as a baby.”
To this the girl gave no response.
“She warned me off the path she now seeks to tread,” Nestor said. “I wouldn’t listen. I was lucky that all I lost was my arm. And my senses, for a while, but those I regained. Not without help.” He turned back. Through the open door of his home there passed a woman, her dark hair just showing a streak of gray here and there.
The girl nodded now, and her brows puckered into a frown. “I have warned my mother not to go. She will not listen.”
“You have seen disaster, haven’t you? Why do they not listen to you?”
“Because I am a child. Grown folk can choose when they will listen to a child, and when they will not. If they do not want to believe what I have seen, then they will not listen.” She paused a moment. “I also warned my mother not to ask you to come.”
Nestor narrowed his eyes. “What have you seen, Daphne?”
“Nothing!” Melpo said. “Leave her be.”
“You’ve told your daughter the story, have you not? Is that were you doing when I called out?”
“I know the story,” Daphne said. “The crab was giant. He was the son of the sea god, so he was immortal. He should not have died, but somehow he did. The remains of his body turned to stone and rock, and became an island. It’s haunted by the remains of his sprit. It’s always covered by shadowy clouds. Legend says the crab did not like the sunlight. So his mother made a shroud of clouds for him. When people go to the island and crawl all over him, he doesn’t like it. He’s not alive, so he can’t move and throw them off. All he can do is scare them, and chase them away. So no one ever settled there or visited there, except for treasure-hunters who hunted for the crab’s heart. Legend says that because the crab was immortal and not supposed to die, his heart turned into a huge precious jewel.”
Here, the girl sighed. And her mother took over the last bit of the tale.
“Anyone who would be able to find this jewel would be rich beyond imagining,” Melpo said, fixing her gaze upon Nestor. “Their family would be rich for all the generations to come, until the end of time. So people have tried to go to the island, and hunt for this jewel. People who already had fortunes. People who had none. People who sought renown. People who sought relief. But many never returned. And those who do never spoke of what they found on the isle.”
“I do not remember how I survived,” Nestor said. “Nor do I wish to. Maybe it was a fool’s luck that I was found, rescued, and healed. But none of us should rely on a fool’s luck.”
“He’s not a fool,” Melpo said. “Hylas a good leader. And much is known about the isle now that was not known when you went there. I don’t know if we will find the jewel. But we have a path we can travel. We are sure of this path. We can go and return safely, especially if you come with us.”
Nestor shook his head. “I would do much for an old friend. Even if she no longer calls me ‘friend.’ But I will not do this. I will not go with you, Melpo. I’ve lived a good life. And there are others to whom I owe even stronger allegiance than I owe to you.” He cast his gaze back through the open door and upon his wife again.
“It’s alright, uncle,” Daphne said. “You need not come. For I am going with them.”
Nestor’s eyes went wide when he saw that the girl was not jesting. He whipped his gaze toward Melpo. “What fresh folly is this?”
Melpo’s shoulders stiffened. “She is coming. And that is that.”
Nestor suddenly realized the reason. Daphne’s visions too would be a guide for those on the hunt.
He glared at Melpo. “All for a jewel? Your child is worth more than all the jewels in the mortal world, and any treasures beyond.”
Melpo stared back. “Yes, she is.”
“Then why are you taking her.” His gaze dropped down again to Daphne. She gave no answers, but a sad sigh. She leaned against her mother’s arm.
Nestor did not again cast his gaze upon his old friend. “I see now why you brought her with you today. You have fallen low in my esteem, Melpomene. If you will not protect her, then I will.” He hitched his shoulder and turned away with only these last words.
“Tell Hylas, he has his guide.”
Nestor hoisted his pack of supplies as he approached the well-made boat that would carry him back to the island where he had vowed never again to go.
There were fourteen in the party, counting himself. Thirteen grown folk. Daphne was the only child.
He found her standing alone at the bow, looking out upon the sea, as her mother helped the others to load the boat. She gave greeting when she saw him. Her little smile cracked his heart, and he stopped for one step to seal it up again.
“You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to,” he said, as he joined her at the bow. “Your mother and her friends will look after each other.”
Daphne gazed back out to sea. “I’m afraid, but I have to go.”
Nestor smiled at her though she was not looking at him. “Well then, you’re the only brave one in this expedition. The rest of them are fools.” He could not tell if she was listening. “Daphne…”
She turned to him, her dark eyes seeing more than the mortal sights now before her. She blinked slowly and focused her gaze upon him.
Nestor leaned down toward her. “Do not follow a fool into folly.”
There was still time for her to get off the ship, run to the safety of land, to her father, who for some reason stood by the dock, watching his wife and daughter go to their dooms.
“I’m going to see if my mother needs any help,” Daphne said. “But I will see you later, uncle.”
As Nestor watched her go, he felt a prickle at his left shoulder, from the restless ghost of his long-lost arm.
Hylas walked onto the deck then, smiling broadly as if he were set on a voyage to some paradise. He slapped Nestor on the shoulder. “I am happy you have joined us, Nestor. With your help—”
“I’m not here to be your guide or to help you in any way,” Nestor said, his voice low and quiet, loud enough only for Hylas to hear. “I’m here to guard that child. If anything happens to the rest of you, I will not move to aid you. I will only protect her, and only save her.”
The smile did not fade from Hylas’s face. “And what about her mother—your dear friend?”
Nestor hoisted the pack upon his shoulder. “I must find a place to put my things,” he said, and walked away.
That very evening, a sudden squall appeared, but it was far to their starboard. Hylas had guided the pilot to take a different course than the one they would have if they sought to reach the island as soon as they could. The new course would add days to their journey. But Hylas had been warned of the storm.
Daphne had seen it.
“Is that it?” Nestor asked, as they sat together for a meal the next morning. “Is that the disaster you foresaw? Or are there more to come?”
“I can’t see that much farther ahead. A few days, at most,” Daphne said, her attention on her porridge. She paused a moment to glance up at him. “But I can see far behind.”
In response, Nestor gave only a cautious nod.
Perhaps she had seen something about him, something he could no longer see, a lost memory. Perhaps she hadn’t. Either way, he would not speak of it, even if she asked him outright. But she did not.
When Daphne was done with her porridge, Melpo told her to go and practice balancing on the deck. The girl dashed away, and Nestor heard the delighted cries and laughter from the boat’s crew and the other treasure-hunters walking about on deck.
“Hylas told me what you said,” Melpo said, and there was a smile starting on her lips. “That you are only here to protect my daughter.”
“I took an oath to that end, when she was born. Do you remember?”
“Of course, I do. I’m the one who made you take it.”
They chuckled at the memory they held in common.
Melpo’s smile faded, and she sighed. “I made you take the oath, but I have not let you keep it. Now, I entreat you to.” She leaned toward him. “Protect her, and only her.” She leaned away. “And I’ll protect you both. And deal with Hylas and the others, if they should be troubled.”
Nestor’s smile too brightened and then faded. He too leaned forward as Daphne’s words echoed in his mind. “Melpo, are we still friends? Can we speak plainly with each other?”
“I don’t know.”
“We must decide, before it is too late.”
Melpo shook her head. “No.” She rose. “Your purpose is clear. And I will not muddy it. You are Daphne’s guardian.”
So easily and swiftly did they reach the isle that Nestor wondered if they had made some mistake. Gray clouds hung low in the sky for miles. The ragged rock offered no place for the ship to dock, even as they sailed alongside the shore, searching. Shadows seemed to jump and flicker through the dry gray trees that leaned tiredly against each other.
But no forbidding feeling clutched his or anyone else’s heart. No ominous sounds of low roaring from ghastly unnatural beasts struck their ears. No moaning of the ghosts of the explorers who died upon the shores, trying but failing to flee. They encountered no spectral guardian warning off mortals. No friendly looking trickster with too wide and eerie a smile to welcome them, only to trap them.
Finding no place to dock, they anchored the boat, and rowed the two smaller boats to shore, taking two trips to bring all fourteen treasure-hunters. The boat’s captain and pilot reminded Hylas of the deal that was struck. He would give them five days. It was expected that half the party would camp on the island, if it were found to be safe enough. The other half would return to the boat to sail back home and bring more supplies.
Wherever the legendary jewel was, it was surely embedded within the rock of the island. It could not be simply plucked from some alcove or chest and carried triumphantly home.
Once upon the shore, they set up their camp and rested for a while. Some went exploring the nearby woods, venturing as far as the strange sloping mountains beyond.
Daphne warned one party to watch their step, for she foresaw one of them being trapped within quicksand. They would not be buried by it, and the others would rescue them in time. But her warning would save them a few hours of needless struggle.
Hylas addressed the party, before they settled for the night.
“I will not scoff at stories of ghosts and hauntings, and mysteries that our mortal minds cannot fathom,” he said. “We will keep watch, and if need be, abandon the camp and head to the boat. But if all is calm tonight, then tomorrow, we will set out to search for the jewel.”
Tumblers were raised and a quiet, respectful cheer from a few.
Nightfall brought them no terrors.
Not even nightmares.
And by morning, after breakfast, they were set upon the path that the scouts had found, leading into the mountain.
Hylas asked Nestor if he found any part of their path familiar thus far.
“We did not land on this part of the isle,” Nestor said. “Nothing here is familiar to me.”
“Is that really so?” Hylas challenged.
But a moment later, someone cried out. It was not a cry of alarm, but one of excitement.
They had been descending deeper and deeper into the caves, and yet the light—gray and cold as it was—had not diminished.
They all soon saw what those ahead saw.
A hot red sparkling vein running through the gray rock.
Half the party pressed forward and huddled around it. Hylas made his way to the front.
“Is it ruby or fire-diamond?” someone asked.
“This is the jewel, is it not?” asked another.
“It’s not,” Hylas said, “but it will lead us straight to the jewel.”
A cheer went up among the party then. For they had their maps and clues guiding them through the cavern, but nothing had been assured. Now, this thin vein of precious stone meant their journey was already a success. And they had not yet spent a day in their search.
Surely, there would be celebration at the camp that night.
Nestor felt a strange stirring in his stomach.
Then Daphne screamed.
The sound pierced the air and froze his heart. She screamed again and Melpo was by her side. She fell to her knees and grasped the girl’s shoulders.
“We must go!” Daphne cried.
Nestor too was on his knees beside the girl. He watched her eyes fill with tears that spilled and streamed down her cheeks.
“We must go! We must leave!”
Melpo shushed her. “We’ve almost found it. We must push on.” She put a hand on her daughter’s cheek, and only Nestor was close enough to hear the curse she muttered to herself. “Tell us what you saw,” she said to Daphne. “We can go around—”
Daphne gasped in a breath. “No!” Her hand went to her throat as she looked up over her mother’s head at all the rest of the party. Whatever she saw in the faces of the others only sharpened her anguish.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Then she leaned toward Nestor and whispered in his ear.
“You must go. You will lead us all to death. You will lead me to death.”
She drew back and shoved him, glaring through tears. Nestor winced, but he studied her eyes, and he too saw beyond what his mortal sight showed him.
Ah, gentle one, Nestor thought. You are not practiced in lying.
Hylas stood before the girl. “Your mother is right, Daphne. I am sorry for whatever horrors your vision showed you, but they will not come to pass. Do you know why?”
Daphne knocked her mother’s hand out of the way and dried her own tears. She did not answer Hylas, but he continued anyway.
“Because you are our best guide,” Hylas said, smiling down at her. “And you will guide us away from the danger you see.”
“An undue burden,” Nestor said, “for one who did not wish to be here in the first place.”
One of the others approached. “Hylas, why does she not tell us what this first danger is, and stay here with her mother and Nestor to protect her? All other dangers will be ours to face as we choose. But we cannot ask her to go on. You can see that she’s afraid.”
“She’s afraid for you, not for herself,” Melpo said, rising. She took one of Daphne’s hands in her own. “And we must come with you, so we can lay our own claim on the treasure you find.”
“Do you not trust us to be honest?” another asked, a smooth-faced man with eyes that never seemed to be looking at anything or anyone.
Melpo stared at him. “Some of you, but not all.”
“If we’re all going, then let us be going,” said the woman who had found the sparkling vein.
The echoes of Daphne’s screams had faded away, and her tears had dried. Though sobered for a moment by her sudden warning, most of the party recovered. They all shuffled ahead.
Nestor walked behind Daphne and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “What happens to me now is not your fault. You tried to warn me, but I chose not to listen.”
They came upon a crumbling stair, or so it seemed, clinging to the rock face. But nothing on the isle was shaped by human hands. The “stair” had been carved by wind and water. And they all would have tumbled to their deaths taking it, if not for Daphne’s warning. She called out loud and firm, but with no feeling in her voice. No fear. No taunt.
The cavern grew cold in the absence of her warmth.
It grew dim and then dark the farther they descended.
Daphne walked near the front now, just behind Hylas, with her mother and Nestor behind her.
She called out another warning, when they came upon a dark pool that was filled with eels whose bodies charged the waters with lightning.
But she did not give warning about a nest of spiders that jumped out of a crevice and bit three or four people before others brushed the creatures off.
Some cast their gazes at her. Questioning, though not accusing, save for one of them, that same smooth-faced man who had questioned Melpo.
“I did not see it,” Daphne said, in answer to a question that no one asked aloud.
Those who had been bitten complained of a burning pain, and a thirst that had them emptying their own reserves of water and borrowing that of others. The others were free with their water, for they all believed they would soon find the jewel.
They descended farther and farther down, following that one thin vein that was joined by two others just as thin. That was what gave them hope.
Nestor was just beginning to feel the drag upon his eyelids, when he noticed Daphne stumble. He caught her just as Melpo reached out.
“We must soon sleep,” Nestor said.
He had not wanted to spend the night underground. But knew it would be night soon as the hours passed and they came no closer to the jewel.
“We will,” Hylas agreed. “Once we find a wide clear spot where we all can rest and stay together.”
Nestor hoped that Hylas was clever enough to send some of the party back up in the morning, to fetch more supplies—especially water—and make a sure map of their path.
They came upon a small pond, but Daphne warned them against drinking from it. She shuddered and closed her eyes, turning away, not bothering to see if the grown folk would heed her warnings.
Nestor wondered what she had seen, and wondered again and again why her mother had brought her on such a dangerous journey.
Hylas had sent scouts ahead to search for a spot where they might rest for the night.
But when the scouts came dashing back, Nestor knew what the wide-eyed gleams in their eyes meant.
Hylas turned to the rest of the party.
“We have found it!” he said. “We have found the jewel!”
Red, and raw, and rocky it was.
Set in a cramped cavern where they had to creep along the outer wall one at a time until all were gathered around the jewel. They could not see from the opening they entered where the jewel ended.
As the others spilled into the cavern, Nestor heard them speak of how the jewel glittered even under the crust of salt and the grime of the sea. Water dripped from above, spilling over the uneven facets. He heard the clink of tools being removed from packs. But Hylas warned them all not to touch the jewel quite yet. He warned them to practice caution.
“Bother your caution, Hylas!” the smooth-faced man said. He gripped a piece of the jewel with his clawed hand, as if he meant to rip it away. “I’ll not sleep with this burning and itching in my skin.” Here he cast a glance toward Daphne, still bitter that she had not warned about the spiders.
Nearly all of them had suffered some kind of hurt by then, cuts on their hands and arms from the sharp rock. Bruised knees and ankles from slips and falls. Daphne did not foresee every little mishap they encountered.
But Melpo and Nestor had kept the girl herself safe, so safe that Daphne was the only one whose feet were not sore and blistered.
Some understood that the hurts she suffered were worse. Some, but not all.
Not the smooth-faced man whose uncanny gaze never quite settled on the person he was looking at.
“Let’s take as much of it as we can and march back,” said the smooth-faced man.
His were not the only hands upon the giant jewel. Its primordial sparkle had enchanted almost every eye.
Still, those eyes had been red before the jewel reflected in them. Most were tired.
“We can manage it,” the smooth-faced man said. “We know the way now.”
“Then go ahead,” someone said. “The rest of us will stay here for the night, and carry out what we can of our shares in the morning.”
The smooth-faced man frowned. He wanted them all to go, Nestor saw, so he need not fear that they would steal his share. He feared this, though none had the means to cut or carry out much if any of the jewel. Their aim had been to find it.
“Hylas, tell them it’s best if we all return to the camp,” the smooth-faced man said. “We must treat our wounds, gather more supplies, and—”
Someone hissed. “Be quiet and let us all think!”
The smooth-faced man glared at the woman who had spoken.
“The sound of your voice burns worse than the spider’s venom,” she said. She hissed again. “I wish I were healed of these spider bites.”
Nestor felt a cold sweat break upon his brow. He had noticed something about the woman who had spoken. Her hand was on the jewel.
Perhaps it was instinct or reflex, some unconscious understanding that moved her to speak again.
“I wish I had a flask of fresh water to drink,” she said.
There, on the jewel, before the speaker, before all their eyes, a flask appeared.
With shaky hands, she lifted the flask. Her eyes went to Daphne. But the girl gave no warning. So the woman drank.
She laughed nervously. “Hylas,” she said, “this is not just a jewel.”
“It would seem so,” Hylas said. “We must be all the more careful.”
But even as he spoke, others who had been bitten, cut, or bruised wished for their wounds to be healed, and they were healed.
The smooth-faced man was one of them. His gaze hovered around Daphne. “Perhaps I should wish for visions.”
“We should wish ourselves safely home,” said another, “and this jewel there with us.”
“We cannot be the first to discover this,” the first woman to wish said. “If it were that easy, the jewel would not still be here.”
“She’s right,” said Hylas, nodding.
The smooth-faced man shifted his gaze toward Nestor. “You should wish for your arm back.”
Nestor felt the sweat trickle down his back. “If ever I were to seek a second arm, it would not be in this manner.”
The smooth-face man smiled. “Here, I’ll wish it for you.”
“No!” Hylas spoke with such force that many were startled. “Healing wounds is one matter. But we must not be hasty or careless with the power we have just discovered.”
“I wish for Nestor to grow another arm,” the smooth-faced man said.
Melpo cried out, “No!”
A sharp hot pain stabbed Nestor’s shoulder.
Knocked the breath from his lungs.
Knocked him to his knees.
His hand went to his shoulder, and squeezed as a bloody spike burst from his stump.
The others burst into screams and shouts. Hands reached out to help Nestor, then recoiled.
The rest of the new arm, hard and ragged, slipped out. Its weight dragged him down. He could not rise.
The pain receded, leaving behind a throbbing ache. Nestor felt hands wiping his eyes. He had not realized he had closed them. He opened them, and found Daphne sitting beside him, and Melpo’s face above him.
“You cannot wish a wish for someone else!” Hylas cried out.
None went near the jewel for a few hours, while Melpo and a few others tended to Nestor.
She had not wanted him to look. A strange and silly notion, he had thought, until he looked at his left side.
The wish had not granted him his old arm, but a new one.
And it had not granted him a man’s arm.
But an arm covered in a hard sand-colored shell, with sharp ridges along sharp claws.
It was the arm of a crab.
Of a size and proportion to match a man. The arm was as long as his other, and the claws as wide as his chest.
When Nestor tried to move it, he could not.
It was dead. A dead weight that dragged him down and tore at his shoulder. Melpo made a sling to tie the claw to his chest, so he could manage carrying it until they left the island.
The horror of what happened to Nestor revealed that Hylas had known about the jewel’s power all along.
You cannot wish a wish for someone else.
“Is this why you brought her?” Nestor asked quietly, after Melpo sent Daphne to fetch fresh bandages. “Why you had to bring her?”
“The visions are a torment,” Melpo said. “She sees wondrous things, it is true. But all too often, she sees horrible things.”
“But to risk coming here…”
“Could you bear it, if it were your child who saw the body of a man hewn in half as he was struck by a wagon, his glassy eyes not seeing the bright sky above, as his glossy entrails spilled across the muddy road? She called out a warning, my Daphne did. She warned him and she saved him. The rest of us watched him clutch his chest and thank the stars and the little girl with the visions for saving him. None of us had to watch him die. But she did.”
“You have known about this jewel’s true worth all along, about the powers.”
Melpo nodded. “Hylas told me. I don’t want to rob her of her gift. She can keep the happy visions. I’ve told her what words to speak to make it so.”
She helped him to rise and try out his sling. Sitting the claw was only heavy. But moving hurt him.
“I will slow our travel,” he said, “equipped as I am now. How glad I am to have this mighty arm.” He raised his voice as he spoke, so his words might carry the taunt and the warning to everyone.
But Nestor had been right about the folly of fools.
They heard a commotion in the chamber with the jewel. And with horror, they both heard the high strong voice of a child.
Melpo was already in the chamber as Nestor hobbled in. He found Daphne standing upon the glittering jewel, the heart of the immortal crab.
“You cannot take the jewel from this island,” Daphne said. Her brow was set in a frown. She gestured to the walls of the chamber. “I know his true tale now. I have seen it. Others have carved it into his shell.”
No one moved against her. Not yet. Nestor glanced around, wincing at every pulse of pain. He searched for the smooth-faced man, or for Hylas, but did not see them. He looked again at Daphne.
“The crab did not fear the sun,” she said. “And the veil of shadow was not created by his mother to shield him. It was created by an enemy to trap him. His enemy hoped to squeeze his soul and heart into a powerful jewel. We have already discovered its terrible magic.”
“Then let us wish for the veil to be lifted,” someone said.
Daphne shook her head. “That will awaken him,” she said. “He’ll toss us into the sea, and we’ll drown.”
Nestor glanced at the walls of the chamber. This enemy that Daphne spoke of, he spotted the figure depicted as a shapeless form shrouded in misty patterns. He could not see if it was a human or some beast, or otherworldly being. He shuddered. If they were caught in the middle of a battle between such titans, they would be as ants underfoot.
They would crush us without ever knowing it, he thought
Some listened to Daphne.
But others did not want to.
Even Nestor longed to reach out to the red rock, only a hand’s breadth away, and wish away his crab’s arm. But he would not pile folly upon folly. He could have it cut off when they were back home.
“He is no ordinary crab,” Daphne said, raising her voice. “He is the son of a sea god. He will remember who has used his power. He will hunt you, and your kin, and your people. We must leave here, and leave him be.”
“And what if someone else comes and wakes him?” someone asked. “Next year, or the year after that? He’ll still come after us.”
“Let us wish for him to be our servant,” another said. “Or at least wish for him to protect us. What a wonder it would be to have a giant crab guarding our shores.”
Daphne tried to speak again, but hands were grabbing at her feet now, trying to pull her down. Melpo batted them away, and helped her daughter down.
They left the chamber, and Nestor followed.
“Watch her,” Melpo told him. “I’ll go back and make a wish to stop them.”
“It’s too late,” Daphne said.
As she spoke, the ground began to quake. A crack formed above them, and a shard of light shone through.
It was sunlight.
The quaking stopped.
“This can’t be,” Melpo said, holding her hand out to the light. “We are too far down.”
The quaking started again.
“We must go, now!” Nestor said. Melpo was already guiding her daughter back along the path they had taken.
Nestor followed. He did not have to tell Melpo not to wait for him if he slowed. The weight of the crab arm shifted his natural balance. He stumbled, trying to dodge falling rock and pebbles. They were too far down to make it to the surface if the isle kept quaking.
If the crab was truly waking.
Others ran before them and behind them, most of the party. He did not see Hylas.
Nestor kept his eye on Daphne, as he had vowed to do.
Amid the quaking, he had not noticed another sound until it was upon them. Roaring, the roaring of water.
Nestor slipped, and he tumbled into the water.
His crab arm dragged him down. He struggled against the sling, in vain.
It was only because a wave lifted him that he broke through the surface, gasping for breath, catching a glimpse of rock rising, floating in the air. Water cascaded from the rock. A great grinding and shrieking pierced his ear. He turned his head to search for Daphne, to search for Melpo.
But he was again submerged.
Under the surface, he saw nothing, nothing but the churning of the ocean.
He was lifted again to the surface, pushed away by a wave, away from the island. The rock moved. He glimpsed a shape upon the water, a great claw, like the one that was strapped to his own chest. The waters around him glittered red.
Nestor took but two breaths before he slipped under the surface again.
When next he opened his eyes, waters pushed gently against him, around him. But his back lay on something solid, and his eyes gazed upon the bright stars of a clear night.
He coughed out water, but breathed easily. More easily than he might have expected.
He sat up, and his eye went to his left shoulder. He pulled at a scrap of cloth that clung to his neck. It was all that remained of the sling.
Nothing remained of the crab arm.
He heard coughing to his right, and by starlight he saw the shadow of another figure.
Nestor cleared his throat and called out to Daphne, finding her and her mother lying farther away from the water.
In time, they gathered more survivors. And someone, a lone guard keeping watch over the beach, found them and went to summon aid.
None of them had thought to ask him where they had landed.
The stars were strangely arranged.
The people were kind wherever they had landed. And they spoke a common tongue.
With half the night still ahead of them, they were already tucking Daphne into a warm, dry bed.
“I saw him go,” she whispered. Melpo tried to quiet her, and tell her they could speak of it in the morning.
But Daphne sat up and gazed out of the window. And when she spoke, she did not speak as a child would speak.
“I followed his path. And I saw a vision of the stars. It is not the gods and immortals who reside there, mother, but our own people. Once our bodies die, our spirits will ascend to the stars. Even my eyes could not pierce the veil of stars to see how the spirits lived. But I was greatly comforted. I was scared of the passage though. I prayed it would be quick and that any pain would be bearable, for all of us. And then we too could have the peace of the stars.”
She turned away from the window, and smiled now a child’s smile, showing her tiny teeth. “But we didn’t go that way yet. We came back to life.”
Melpo threw her arms around he daughter, her shoulders hitching, as if she were holding back great sobs. She would let them out once she was far enough away from her daughter. She dropped a kiss on Daphne’s head, and kissed her cheek. She turned and swept past Nestor, laying a hand on his shoulder as she went. He lay his own hand over the hand of his old friend.
He too stepped out of the room.
Sweeping the door closed, Nestor paused for a moment.
“Thank you for leading us back,” he said.
Daphne smiled at him, her eyes seeing him.
Her eyes seeing beyond him.
Copyright © 2023 Nila L. Patel