by Ayla Lyonne
A young woman finds she not only discovered a majestic world, but a new identity as well.
| The water, the sea, the deviant lifeforce that claims whatever it pleases and rejects whatever it pleases, rose up and claimed me as it's own. I don't remember much about that night. Except that the stars were beautiful and the waves were choppy and white with seafoam. I had decided to take a walk along the beach to try and locate a good spot to set up my telescope and do some star-gazing. It was a perfect night for it. The black sky was completely clear of clouds and the stars sparkled like diamonds. I had been walking for about fifteen minutes, when I saw a flat rock out-cropping, jutting into the sea like a long black serpent. I walked up onto the large rock and set up my telescope, aiming in the general direction of north. My preoccupation with the constellations had become more than a hobby. The stars were my life. I was happiest when I was able to be with my telescope and a clear view of the night sky. I felt a sense of peace and oneness with the universe that I had never felt in any other aspect of life. I could stay that way for hours, not even noticing events unfolding around me. Which was what happened the night of September 19th, 2009. After settling into a slightly cramped and uncomfortable position, I set to studying the stars.|
First, I spotted Vulpeca, the fox. Then, looking clockwise, Sagitta, the arrow, Aquila, the eagle, Aquarius, the water-carrier, Equuleus, the foal, and Pegasus, the flying horse. When I passed Pegasus, the constellation Dolphinus came into view, shining much brighter than I had ever seen before, and much brighter than any of the other stars in the sky. I remember thinking how peculiar it was to see such a sight, and briefly wondered if I was witnessing a supernova near the Dolphinus constellation. The light shone brightly for what seemed like hours. As it faded away, I felt myself unwillingly slipping into a sort of half-sleep. Indeed, I thought I had drifted off. It wasn't until I felt the waves of cool salt water washing over me that I began to realize I was being pulled into the sea. I tried to wake myself; I tried to kick and scream and began flailing my arms to no avail. I could not move. I was as motionless as the rock on which I lay. That rock was my last connection with solid ground; my last piece of dry earth. Except it wasn't. It was eroding with every wave of salt-water. Disintegrating, bit by bit, into the ocean. It wasn't a connection to anything except an empty beach. I was alone and helpless. I lost all hope as I felt my stiffened body fall at last beneath the water.
The first thing I remember after my descent into the murky unknown is the smell. It smelled, not salty, as one would expect, but of spiced flowers, magnolias, maybe, and something else. Some underlying smell, like putrid halitosis, slowly burning my senses as if an aftertaste of scent. Knowing I had only a few precious moments before my oxygen ran out and I truly became unconscious, I made a last effort to swim upwards and break the surface. I kicked my legs and used all of my strength to push the water away and propel myself to the surface. The water began to get lighter and I thought I had only a few feet before I would once again see the moon and the stars that I so loved. Then, a light, swirling motion at my feet slowed my progress. I kicked with all my might, but I was slowly being dragged back down into the depths. Frantic, I cried out and lost the last bit of oxygen I had in my lungs. As I watched the bubbles of air heading toward the surface, to a world I would probably never see again, I went unconscious.
*** <<***>> ***
I awoke in a groggy daze. Opening my eyes took some effort, and when finally I succeeded, I thought perhaps I had gone blind. I saw nothing but black, very dark blue, and vague lines in the distance that seemed blacker than black.
I blinked a few times and squinted. It didn't help. I thought maybe I was dead; in Purgatory, perhaps. I wasn't as terrified at the notion of being dead as thought I would've been. Yes, there were things I had wanted to accomplish in life; forgiveness I'd denied to those who deserved it. Yet, at the same time, I couldn't help but look at what I was experiencing as an adventure. As I stared into the murky infinity by which I was surrounded, I began to take in more details of the world around me. For one, I wasn't lying down or sitting on anything. I seemed to be floating. I noticed two dark horizontal lines to my left. They seemed to be closer than any of the other mysterious shadows.
I tried moving my arms. They moved slowly, as if weighted down by some invisible force. I tried moving my legs. Trying first my left and then my right, I was horrified to feel only a slight tugging sensation in my muscles. It was as if my legs wanted to work, but couldn't remember how. I tried to lift both of my legs at the same time. My body seemed to protest, so I tried to wriggle myself toward the lines. In the first few inches, my body seemed to start moving of it's own accord. The bottom half of my body moved in a way so alien to me that it startled me to a stop. The best way I can describe it is that my legs were now one giant muscle. My feet were almost completely connected, and stuck out on either side. When I moved, my new 'tail' pumped up and down, propelling me forward.
Stunned, I temporarily forgot all about my thoughts of death. I quickly came to realize that the darkness surrounding me was not Purgatory, but ocean water.
And I was breathing. 'I am alive.' I thought to myself. 'I'm alive, and I'm underwater.' I felt panic rising up inside me. Instead of giving into the fear, I forced myself to think of this as another, albeit stranger, adventure.
"After all," I said aloud, "how many people have the chance to experience something like this? I'm not going to let the fear of the unknown prevent me from being a part of something so profoundly incredible."
A shadow fell over me, and a voice spoke suddenly from behind me, "I'm certainly glad you feel that way, Encantado."
I spun around so quickly that it took me a minute to focus on the being in front of me.
"What are... who..." I was rendered momentarily speechless. as I took in the flowing, incandescent locks of hair, like translucent seaweed, framing an elegant face.
"Where did you come from?" I finally managed.
"I come from the sacred birthplace of all of my kind. I come from the majestic and revered city of Encante." She spoke with such passion, and I could see her green eyes shining with pride.
"Ok." said I. "Sounds... intriguing. Who are you exactly?"
Taking on a slightly monotone accent, she replied as if reciting from memory: "I am Delphi. Keeper of Secrets and Ambassador to the Encantado, First Officer of the 377th Faction of the Peace of Humanity Movement, and current acting President of Encante." she finished with a flourish, then added, " Welcome, Encantado. The people of Encante grant you peace and safe passage throughout our our waters."
As I processed all this new information, it occurred to me that I'd heard the name Delphi somewhere before.
"Hey," I said, "Isn't Delphi the name of that ancient Greek oracle?"
"There once was a prophecy giver with the same name as I, that is correct. Although, it is mere coincidence, as I am more ancient than even the Greek civilization, and they know nothing of Encante.", she explained. "I am called Delphi after our divine maker; the Mother of Love and Peace, and creator of the Encantado, Delphinus. It is an honor and a privilege to carry such a name."
"Well, Delphi, I thank you for the warm welcome." I said. "l'm afraid I'm still a little confused, though. You called me 'Encantado' before, and now you say this 'divine maker', this 'Delphinus', is the one who made me... whatever I am?" I paused for breath, "What exactly is an Encantado?" I asked hesitantly, afraid I already knew the answer.
"Simply put, an Encantado is a being which is able to transform from dolphin to human and back again." She said this matter-of-factly, as if it was well-known information.
My new tail and ability to breathe underwater had given me some notion of what I'd become. I had never heard of an Encantado, though, or a land called Encante.
' Like I wasn't weird enough when I was fully human,' I thought to myself, 'now I go and turn part fish?!'
As we talked, Delphi had begun swimming at a slow steady pace, as I followed. We swam for a few moments more in silence. The only sound was that of our tails manipulating the water behind us. As we reached a spot where the water went from dark blue to a lighter blue-green color, Delphi suddenly stopped. Motioning for me to wait, she dove into the depths and disappeared.
The minutes passed, and I started to feel anxious. While I contemplated going down after Delphi, I began to hear a low, melodic sound. Beginning as a soft hum, barely audible; the sound grew louder until it was clear and strong:
"Through the Mother of Love and Peace,
Our souls are bound as one.
We, the children, our voices speak,
Bring our sisters home.
These sad, yet beautiful lyrics repeated, becoming louder each time, until the last shout to 'Bring our sisters home!' echoed in my ears.
I felt movement in the water and saw Delphi swimming back toward me.
"Was that you singing? I asked her in awe.
"That was the voices of thousands of Encantado sisters, joining together as one." she replied. "I merely began the Anthem Incantorium. Now. we are able to cross into Encante."
I looked around me. Nothing. We were still surrounded by never-ending ocean water as far as I could sees. "Um, Delphi? I hate to break it to you, but," I began. The I stopped. Something caught my eye. A shimmer in the blue-green water ahead. As I looked more closely,I noticed that all of the blue-green water was shimmering.
We swam closer as waves began to push and pull us un any direction but toward the shimmering waters.
"Swim! HARD!" Delphi shouted over her shoulder to me.
She didn't have to tell me twice! I pumped my tail as hard as I could and swam after her. Together we fought against each wave in turn. I could still hear the Encantado anthem thrumming in my ears.
The angry waves receded and before me was the strangest and most beautiful place I have ever seen. We were still underwater, yet, now, there was a sort of sky above us. Not a blue sky with white puffy clouds; this was more of a lavender ceiling with shafts of pearly light shining through. The plant life was varying form of seaweed and coral, most of which, I'm sure, have never been seen by human eyes. These native plants were brightly colored and came as long, slinky coral in shades of blue and yellow, the pointy nubs of a hot pink seaweed bed, huge purple columns of ridged coral stalks, etc. The plants were all swaying with the activities of many thriving anemones.
Delphi grabbed my hand and turned to look at me with curious eyes. "This is my home." She said, "Here in Encante, we strive to bring Peace and Love to every creature of the sea. The Encantado are the bravest of all sea creatures. We are the ones who escue helpless ocean animals, mediate disagreements between and within species, and, most importantly, we train other Encantado our philosophies and in using their powers for the good of all. Basically, Encante and it's inhabitants are responsible for keeping peace and order in all waters." She paused, giving me another curious look. "Does this please you, Encantado?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied, "It is beautiful here. Encante sounds like a very essential and imperative part of life underwater."
"Yes, we are." Delphi smiled proudly. "Though it is not only life underwater to which we are essential. We are responsible for a great many happenings Above as well as Below."
"How is that possible?" I asked. "I've never heard of any sea creatures able to communicate with humans."
"Delphi's expression hardened. "No, you wouldn't have, I'm sure. Yet, it is true all the same. Humans are too egotistical to admit, especially to their own kind, that they are not the most advanced or intelligent species." Without waiting for a response, Delphi swam away, leaving me no choice but to follow in her wake. Giving her some space seemed like a good idea, considering her current despondent mood. It also gave me the chance to investigate my surroundings more closely.
The coral and seaweed vegetation was only a prelude to the rest of Encante. Swimming further into the city, I realized how true Delphi's words were.
There were Encantado everywhere. All of them seemed to be directing and aiding the other fish. I moved quickly to the side as a large black and white fish came careening toward me.
"Look out!" someone shouted as the fish grazed my arm, raced forward a few more feet, then spun around and swam back in my direction. As it passed, I noticed it was not just any fish, but a baby Orca whale.
"He's still just a baby," Delphi said; having heard the commotion, she swam up to me. "The poor thing was separated from his pod during a human's whaling expedition. Our Encantado rescued him and brought him here, where we will care for him until the scouts can locate his pod. Then, he will be reunited with his family."
"That's wonderful!" I said, reaching out to pet the orca. "You'd go through all that trouble for one animal?"
"Of course," she replied, petting the orca as well. "It is our way. If a creature needs help, we will do everything in our power to give it aid, no matter how big or how small." She paused. "Although we can't control every situation, we do have power enough to handle most every problem that may arise."
"Kale!" someone yelled, swimming up to us. "Don't frighten me like that!" The woman scolded the orca, who swam up to her and gave a playful nudge.
"Tillie," said Delphi, "I'd like you meet our newest Encantado..." Delphi turned to me. "Oh, my. In all the excitement, I'm afraid I never asked for your name. Please, forgive my rudeness."
"No worries, I forgot to introduce myself." I said. "My name is Celeste, but most people call me Cella."
"Celeste." Delphi said. "That is a beautiful name."
"Thank you." I wondered momentarily why Delphi kept looking so inquisitive. Then, Kale made a low noise that seemed to reverberate and fill the space around us.
"Yes, Kale, I know you're hungry." responded the newcomer. "Celeste, it has been very pleasant to meet you. On, behalf of our sisters, I welcome you to Encante." Turning to Delphi, Tillie said, "Your Highness, please forgive this interruption. Kale has been rather high-spirited this day. If you will excuse us, I must see to his lunch." Upon hearing the word 'lunch', Kale spiraled upwards and perfectly executed three backflips in a row and came back to Tillie with dancing eyes.
The three of us laughed at his playfulness, and Delphi replied, "High-spirited, indeed! You are excused, Tillie. See to it that Kale gets plenty of exercise today. I would not like to hear of him causing a ruckus with the guppies again, as innocent as his intentions may be."
"Yes, your highness." said Tillie. "Celeste, I do hope you find everything to your liking in Encante. If you ever are interested in a companion, see myself or my staff at the Aquadaquarium. We will be happy to assist you." Turning to the whale, she said, "Come along, Kale. Let us retrieve your lunch."
As they swam away, I couldn't help but smile. Kale's antics had seemed to brighten Delphi's mood as well. She turned to me, "Well, Cella." she began, "I suppose you would like to explore the rest of Encante? I have a few urgent matters which require my attention. I will leave you to your own devices for the time being. Should you need me, I will be in the Crystal Castle, just there." She said, pointing toward a vague outline of a large structure in the distance. "That is also where you may find nourishment and a place to retire." Before departing, she added, "Do be careful, Cella. Not everything here is as it seems." She smiled. "Have fun!" With that, Delphi swam away.
Astounded, and not knowing where to begin, I realized this truly was the adventure of a lifetime.
Not having any specific goal in mind, I decided to swim in the direction I had last seen Tillie and Kale. Maybe I'd get myself a 'companion'. As I swam along, I noticed other Encantado looking in my direction with wondering expressions. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I stopped one was particularly ogling me, and asked, "What's the deal? Why is everyone staring at me?"
The woman closed her dropped jaw and replied, "Oh, my. I apologize. It was rude of me to stare so openly. I was only wondering where it is you come from? I do not remember seeing you at the last Creation Ceremony, and I'm fairly certain we haven't held one I was unaware of."
"I'm not really sure how to answer that. I've never heard of a Creation Ceremony. Though, I'm guessing that's what Delphi was talking about, when Delphinus chooses what creatures will become Encantado." I replied. I quickly decided that I liked this woman, and revealed, "I've actually come from Above. The last thing I remember is gazing up at the constellations through my telescope. I still don't exactly know what happened, but I know I blacked out. When I woke, I had a tail and could breathe underwater. Delphi showed up, and lead me here."
The woman looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet. Worry and confusion etched in her brow, she said, "I am not familiar with an Encantado who tells falsehoods. All the same, I have no other explanation for your existence than the one you've provided. It is an amazing tale, no? Do you miss your Above world?"
"Well, yes... and no." I replied. "It's strange, but I didn't have very many friends, and my family... they're gone. They were in an accident when I was a baby. I've been an orphan my whole life." I guess she could tell I needed to talk to someone. She said, "Come on inside. My home is just here." She pointed behind us to a burgundy coral pillar, riddled with man-sized holes. I followed her inside, where she fiddled around in ragged dents in the wall, eventually producing a large bottle that looked completely empty.
Reaching for two glasses, she said, "I am called Eleanor. Since you are new to Encante, I thought plain, fresh water would be the best option for refreshment." Smiling, she handed me a glass of the clearest water I have ever seen. One taste instantly quenched my thirst, yet made me long for another drink.
"Thank you, Eleanor, I'm Cella." I said, taking another drink. "This is delicious!" I exclaimed. "Where do you get this?"
"7,728 feet below Encante, there is a spring of the freshest, purest water in all of Creation. Our scouts retrieve a semi-annual supply, to which we are all rationed."
"Wow," I said. "7,728 feet! That should be impossible, even for an Encantado." I looked at her. "Right?"
Eleanor eyed me hesitantly, and changed the subject. "I am sorry to hear of the fearful circumstances which have brought you here, though I am pleased to have you as a sister." she began. "You do not miss the Above world at all, though? Forgive me for being intrusive. It just seems that, if you have spent your whole life in a place, you would grow to have some sort of attachment to it. Yet, you seem strangly detached. I am sorry about your family, yet I sense there is something more to you than even you know."
I kept my silence, and took another sip of the delectable water. Swallowing, I nodded thoughfully. "Maybe you're right. I am just detached. I feel no sense of loss or sadness at leaving my old life behind. More so, it felt like a transitional phase, rather than a life."
"Ah," she said, "but transitioning from what, I wonder?"
This question made me pause and wonder the same. I had always felt like I didn't belong, with my friends, who were really mere acquaintances from the University. Nor with any of my collegues or staff from the trail of orphanages. I had always been on the outskirts of a meaningful life. At times I even wondered why people bothered. If we all had no choice in how we were born or how we die; if we were all going to end up deceased in the end anyway, what is the point of doing anything meaningful while we're here?
That seemed to be my philosophy throughout the greater part of my life Above. I floated by, not making an impact on anyone, and, in turn, no one influencing my life at all. It seemed to be going well for me. Except for the times I was forced to interact with people in any given social setting. It was at those times I felt the most emotion. Usually pity, that these people were spending their precious time worrying about who was dating whom and how their hair and makeup looked. But sometimes, I looked at these shallow people with contempt. I was not the same as them. I knew, and they knew it. We usually seemed to have an unspoken agreement that they didn't make me take part in too much of the conversation. I felt that conversation was generally a waste of time. When a person introduces themselves, they're rarely honest to begin with. What you really need to know about a person comes from their actions and reactions. Words can be whatever the speaker wants. Actions are solid proof of a person's intent. The actions of most of the people I met were selfish and designed to benefit the person enacting them in some way or another. It seemed to me that there was not one person on earth who would truly act in a selfless manner, and if there, by some miracle, did happen to be such a person, the rest of the world would take advantage of them so much so that they would be just as bitter and selfish as the rest before long.
I felt as though I was stuck in an alien species. Not once did I receive help unless I recipricated. Each person I ever helped has come to negatively influence my life somehow. There have been many times when, sitting out alone with the stars, my only true friends, that I've thought to myself, 'Why am I here? What is my purpose?' Always the stars were silent. Until...
"That's it!" I exclaimed loudly.
"What?!" asked Eleanor in an alarmed voice. What is the matter, Cella?"
"I'm sorry." I said. "I didn't mean to frighten you. It's just that, I've remembered what happened just before I came here. I was star-gazing near the ocean. The waves were choppy, but not too bad. I was looking at the northern sky. It was so clear and the stars were shining. Then there was a bright light and a huge wave came and pulled me under. I remember swimming to get to the surface and being dragged down into the deep." I stopped for a moment, reflecting. "Then, after a little while, I met Delphi, and came here."
"Well, that is quite an adventure, Cella! You must tell the Queen. I am sure she would want to hear of it."
"Yes, Queen Delphi. She would be most interested to hear of your tale. You may want to tell her without delay. You will most likely find her in the conference quarters of the Crystal Castle. It may take a while to get there, so I will send along some nourishments for your journey."
"Oh," I said. "Ok, well, thank you Eleanor. I appreciate your help and your company. I'll go see Queen Delphi and tell her my story."
* * *
The nourishments packed by Eleanor were of strange shape, color, and texture. Not having eaten anything since my arrival in this underwater world, I decided to try a questionable looking green square with the texture of a deep fried sponge. Taking a small nibble off the corner, I was surprised to find that it almost melted in my mouth, like cotton candy. Yet, the taste was something like barbecued whipped cream, with a slight orange tang.
Finishing off the treat, I made my way toward the hazy outlines of the Crystal Castle. Even from this distance, I could tell that the castle was made of some sort of stone which seemed to reflect the light of the lavender ceiling, giving it the appearence of a glowing beacon. I then realized exaclty how far the castle was from where I now swam. Undaunted, I began swimming toward the beacon.
Looking aorund, I noticed that most of the Encantado I had seen earlier, were no longer around. In truth, very few creatures remained. Those that were still out, seemed in a hurry to be somewhere. I vaguely wondered if there was a city curfew, when a large shadow fell over me. Stopping in my tracks, I slowly looked up. What I saw scared me breathless. A huge great white shark loomed overhead. He seemed to be waiting for something. All of a sudden, a few Encantado came swimming up to the beast with handfuls of seaweed and jars of a clay-looking substance. They weaved and dipped gracefully around the shark, applying the clay and seaweed mixture here and there as they went. While they worked, the shark seemed to be in a daze, and when they were done, he spun around happily and took off in the direction from which he'd come.
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