*Note- This is a continuation of The Elemental Series. Find the rest (categorized by element) in the archives!
Daria woke up in a cold sweat. There was someone watching her. Cautiously tiptoeing over to the window, she skirted around her bedside table, pushing aside the flowing curtains that billowed in the wind. Squinting out, the shore in her front yard glittered with a billion glinting grains of golden sand, lighting up like glowing stars. Dawn was just starting to paint the sky with fire, golds and reds warring with the dull periwinkle horizon.
A dwindling rain pitter-pattered softly on the sill, the smell of rain clouding the air even as she shoved the window shut and clicked the lock into place. Anxious tension swirled in her chest, and she found herself panting. What is it? There’s no one here, and you never wake up early…
The rest of the Positano coastline was silhouetted further down, yet to be hit by the rapidly rising rays of sun. All was still in the streets as far as she could tell, and the air was undisturbed by noise. The only sound was the lapping of the tides, ever-constant, always in motion.
Daria couldn’t find a single reason to be uneasy, but her stomach clenched nonetheless, ripples of nausea like a signal. Her body was telling her to do something, but she couldn’t tell what. Still, she felt like she was being followed, like something was lurking just out of sight. With one decisive motion, she drew the blinds, light disappearing and plunging her room into shadow. Immediately she rushed to the light, diving for it and flipping the switch, labored breaths wracking her chest.
I’ve never minded the dark before… She had always had dreams where a striking young woman- a little older than her- with a crown atop her flowing black hair and a gown would be standing outside on the shore in the dark, bathed in moonlight. Gazing at the stars. Completely comfortable- relaxed, even as shadows fell on the sand. Standing tall and regal even as clouds passed over the moon and blackness encroached on her pale, moondust skin. Whenever Daria had been in the dark since that first dream, she thought of the girl and calmed down. But today felt… different. Her gut roiled, as though shouting a warning at the top of its lungs that was just soft enough that she couldn’t hear it.
Shuffling to her closet, she picked out a swimsuit, quickly pulling it on with the finesse of an experienced swimmer. She was down the stairs and out the door in moments, pushing back the aimless sense of panic and urgency.
The sand was wet and mushy beneath her toes, still glittering bright as the jewels on a wealthy woman’s neck. A large sailboat came into the docks in the distance, dropping off a few men before departing again, headed out to sea. She smiled and waved at them, holding back the bile that rose in her throat. Something was wrong with her. Paranoid, up at dawn, afraid of the dark, anxious over a gut instinct? Swimming helps everything. Without any hesitation, Daria threw herself into the water.
Diving in, everything disappeared. The sights, the sounds, her thoughts. It was just Daria and the sea, as it always had been. No family, no friends, no one. Her and the water. Always. Kicking deeper and deeper as the bottom sloped down, fish swirled in flurries around her, the darting schools seeming slow in comparison. She was a hot knife through butter, a jet in the sky, lightning striking a tree. Fast and effortless, no matter which way the current was going. Just by willing the tide to change, the waves bent and shifted, carrying her along in the current. Even without the help of the waves, each stroke was perfect- never breathing, rocket-fast kick, gliding on the surface or slicing through the depths. Bubbles erupted in streams from her nose, the ache in her stomach starting to dissipate like fog receding over a lake. She grew more and more at ease with each inch she ascended from the midnight blue depths.
When Daria had gone under, all was still and quiet. When she surfaced, all she could hear was a blood curdling scream. Then she got run over. Slam! The air whooshed from her lungs as she was plowed under the surface. Stabbing pain attacked her stomach as slivers of wood thrust themselves deep into her gut. Crimson clouds billowed into the water, blood blossoming and staining the blue. Screams tore her throat, each cry a stab at her mangled flesh.
It was surreal, like a nightmare. I’ve been run over. By a boat. Her mind blanked as she flailed her arms, striking the water without the usual grace and speed, floundering around like a fish that swallowed a hook. Daria could barely breathe, gasping and inhaling water. Yells came from the boat. She imagined some poor sailors, just departed from the dock and ran over a girl who wasn’t looking. But they weren’t shouting in distress. They were cheering.
Shock and disbelief flooded her heart. Mind blanking, Daria barely registered it. Right now, she was steering with her heart. In any normal accident when you were hurt in the water, you would try to seek help from them. But her gut (not the literal one, which was shredded) told her to swim away as fast as she could. Waves slammed against the boat as it careened across the water, undulating wildly with the ebb and flow of the tide.
There was no way to swim fast enough. Blood trailed behind her in crimson clouds, like smoke pouring out of a broken jet engine. She could feel the boat chasing her. Kick. Harder. Daria thought weakly, remembering back to all the swim meets, all the races she had won. Willing the sea to work with her. But consciousness was fading fast, strength flagging. This wasn’t a normal sailor. These people were after her.
Tapping into all her power, every connection that she had ever felt to the water. How she had felt slicing across the water like a shark, diving in at swim meets, wading happily with her mother before the accident on a sunny day.
The accident. It all came crashing down at once, and the strength bled from her almost as fast as the blood. The memory brought back so much happiness, but so much pain. Her mother’s voice, melodic and beautiful like a siren‘s song. The exact gray of her eyes, light and flecked with blue, the same exact shade as Daria’s. Some summer days her mother had sworn she saw gold speckles in Daria’s eyes when the light of the sun hit just right.
“My little champion,” she had said, pulling her into a tight hug, Daria inhaling and smelling her warm, sugary scent of vanilla and cinnamon. She would never smell that again. The next time she saw her mother was to identify the body, a gaunt, blood spattered version of the mother she had loved.
Sea salt stung her nose as she inhaled water in gasps. This was how she was going to die. A swimmer, bleeding out and drowning right outside her house. A hand caught hold of her leg and hoisted her up. She slammed her head against the wood, dark spots dancing across her vision.
She felt like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, bashed constantly until stars swirled in circles above her head like a crown. The ship sloshed from side to side in the unforgiving waves. Daria knew on some level that she was causing them, but the shock and pain numbed her mind and rendered her utterly helpless as the men threw her on deck and bound her legs.
“Let me go!” she sobbed, each word like a knife to her gut. A tall, burly man was at the helm, steering back towards the docks. They had intentionally veered away from the docks just to hit her. And she had smiled. Waved. Been friendly!
A thinner man shoved a gag in her mouth to muffle her cries. The world swayed, darkness encroaching on the edges of her vision. Blood spatters dotted the dock, the crisp red dots becoming increasingly fuzzy with each passing second. She put all her effort into one final heave of the tide, and the boat keeled wildly to the side but refused to throw her overboard. Refused to let her die in peace. Daria was just too weakened by blood loss. There was nothing left to give.
Two other girls were on deck too, both battered and passed out. One with matted dark brown hair, and a torn white shirt in sharp contrast to her tan, exotic skin. I gasped, not caring about the pain that came with it. The second girl was the one from my dreams. The star queen. She was real. She was here, with me, on this boat, looking regal somehow even crumpled on the deck.
The kidnapper held up a rag that stank of chemicals. Chloroform… he might not need it in a second, Daria thought, looking down at the growing pool of blood.
“Welcome, Sea. Or should I say, Daria?” He stuck the rag against her mouth, and she fell to the deck, wavy black hair falling over her eyes. Blood seeped into her swimsuit. In seconds, the world went black.