Three girls on a fishing boat find something unexpected. In a world that has collapsed to the power of the Fae, is there a thing such as a gift with no strings attached?
The ancient church’s bell-tower still stuck out of the water line. It stood straight, if much worse for wear with its bricks clearly visible, like bones beneath the skin.
Lena leaned with her back on the boat, taking a long look at it while pulling on her shirt, trying to let more air slip through and cool her down. She scooped up a bit of water and passed it trough her blonde hair. The salt would make her feel terrible soon enough, but that was a problem for future-Lena.
Such was summer in the Shorelands.
“Wonder who they worshipped there,” she mumbled under her breath.
“The Crossed man,” replied Gentamina, looking up from her scrapbook for a moment. The page was already covered in charcoal marks, depicting the countryside and the flooded trenches of the Ereworld.
“I have heard about this,” groaned the last member of their trio, pulling up the nets. A few befuddled fish rattled their spines on the boat and she clicked her tongue at the meager bounty. “Erepeople were weird. Would it kill you to give me a hand?”
They exchanged a look and Lena stood up.
“Leave Gen alone. She has her drawings to finish. Gimme, Serri.”
“I can help,” Gentamina protested, a light flush covering her pale cheeks. Unlike Serri and her, she never got out to get much sun. She was not supposed to, and her wide straw hat kept most of her thin body in the shade. “I can give you a hand. I you show me how.”
“I doubt it can make a difference,” Lena explained, to which Serri’s blue eyes flashed in anger.
“What Lena is trying to say is that you could surely help, but it would be much better if you helped with your own kind of expertise.” The redhead crouched next to Gentamina and played with her hat, setting it back straight on her sweaty head. “There. How’s your drawing?”
Lena shook her head and pulled the nets up, making the few fish roll onto the boat’s deck and making sure they did not get caught in any kind of lamp-post or old car. You never knew what you could find from the flooded basement of the Shorelands.
“It’s going well. I think,” Gen replied, on the fence between trying to play it down and going on a tirade about all the little details she was putting in. Lena threw a look over her shoulder – the drawing depicted the surrounding area, with the church clearly visible, and behind it the box-like structure of old living quarters, or whatever remained of them, long-since reduced to a skeleton of concrete. Behind that the rolling hills and the safe places of the small towns that had been repopulated after the flood.
“It’s really nice,” Lena agreed as she checked more of the nets, taking out algae and small debris that always got stuck one way or another.
Serri reached her and embraced her from behind, whispering to her ear.
“Can you try to pay more attention to your words? It’s the first time she’s been outside since summer has begun. I want this to be a nice day for her.”
Lena licked her lips. She had half a mind to let her know that her way of cuddling Gen wouldn’t bring to anything good. The brunette needed to be put under some pressure if she had to come out of her shell. Also, sunlight and clean air was supposed to be good for you.
“I might have been a little harsh,” she whispered back. “I’ll try.”
“That’s all I ask,” Serri replied giving her shoulders a little squeeze.
“Yeah, well it’s not that hard,” Lena said suddenly feeling the need for some fresh air as well.
“What did you mean?”
“Nothing. Oh, look, help me untangle this hook,” she said, pointing at the metal that got stuck in the net. They set together to get it out – things like these would easily rip the net in two, and that made the difference between going to bed with a full belly or on an empty stomach.
“There, that’s better,” Lena said as Serri handled her the hook. And then her eyes moved away from her blue gaze as she smiled – for some reason – and she caught something else that had gotten stuck in the knots.
This time it wasn’t a hook.
As she gasped at the glint of gold, Lena took out a large glistening ring, capped by a thick black gemstone.
“Whoa, look at this thing,” she chuckled.
“Spirits! Is that real?”
“What did you catch?” Gen turned to take a look and her breath caught in her throat. “Girls! Don’t touch it!”
Started, the two of them shared a look. Lena frowned, but did as she was told, slowly putting the ring on the boat.
Ge, set aside her drawing tools and rose on unsteady legs. Serri jumped to help her, and together she guided her between them. Gen produced a pouch from her side, full to the brim with vials of hued salts.
“It doesn’t look dangerous,” Lena tried.
“Seldom these things do,” Gen replied. The look in her blue eyes was serious and focused now. She might be frail as an autumn leaf, but when it came to this sort of things, even Lena felt the impulse to stand back. She hugged her legs and waited for the brunette to finish.
“What do you think it is?” Serri scratched the side of her head.
“I am not sure. And likely cannot be. I don’t have the right tools of the trade,” she explained, uncapping two of the vials and drawing a perfect circle of powder with her steady, expert hand, even when she had to stop to hold on a cough or two.
“Gen…” Serri said.
“I’m fine. This is more important.” She drew another circle around the first. Then she took a thin silver spoon out of her pouch and began to draw strange lines between the two. “It might just be a golden ring. But the Fae are famous for their tricks.”
“It’s summer,” Lena said with a click of her tongue. “And we’re in the middle of the sea highway. Industrial ruins and salt. Doesn’t look very hospitable for Fae to me.”
“It isn’t!” She agreed, but her eyes never left the lines. “But you never know.”
“You worry too much,” she said, leaning forward to give a little slap to her shoulder, but the look in her eyes stopped her.
“I’m sure Erepeople worried too much as well?” She asked, waving her arm to encompass their surroundings: the fallen church, the collapsed and dilapidated living quarters, the flooded highway and the sign of a world taken away from Mankind.
Serri set her hand upon her own and Lena looked at her, grateful for the support. She was feeling a little stupid. And a little angry.
It was just a ring!
“How is your reading?” Serri asked, pointing at the circles.
“So far so good,” Gen sighed. “No reaction. It’s probably just some old, human, ring.”
“Then we can keep it?”
“No,” she said shaking her head. “Too dangerous. Even if it’s safe now, there’s no saying what it might attract. Finding a golden ring stuck in a net? That’s fairy-tale stuff! Throw it back into the waters and let’s forget about it.”
“We can sell it and forget about it.”
“These things have a habit of coming back to you in the most horrible way, Lena. Throw it away.”
Serri looked between the two of them. In the end, she nodded.
“Alright, alright. I’ll even do it,” she picked the ring up, leaned forward on the farthest part of the boat and threw the piece of metal away. It gave of a quick glint in the sun and then it plunged into the depths. “There? Better?” She asked pulling back.
“Yes. Thanks Lena,” Gen let out a breath. She began to pull back her stuff and she insisted to help. Serri graced her with a big smile. She was proud of her.
Lena was not proud of herself.
But as the day stretched and they did manage to gather more fish, she did ask for help anymore, letting Gen and Serri share a bit more time together.
Besides, if they did come to help her, they might notice a little spark of golden gleam, half-hidden between the wooden beams of the boat’s rear. Right where Lena had hidden it – and threw the hook away.
She was not proud of the lie, but she knew better.
It was just a stupid old ring.
No foul would come of it.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: It has not been a good day. I did not feel confident enough to continue Patina, so I decided to write a short set in the same universe, though far south. Hope you liked it. Thanks for reading.