The buzz in the air was giving Miyo a headache. It wasn’t just the physical amount of sound made by the humans that lined the shore, but also that which was not physical, that humans weren’t even aware of. But to those like Miyo, the magic from the Sirens gathered in the bay was just as oppressive, creating a pressure that surrounded her as if she were being pulled down deep in the ocean.
Along with the heat of the midday sun baking her within her ceremonial robes, the thought to call everything off had crossed Miyo’s mind several times. ‘Summer’s already here,’ she groused. But every time she thought about backing out, the memory of Naruko’s excited face and how that would turn into disappointment made her hold her tongue.
She sighed and sunk back into her chair. Not even the shade helped to relieve any of the heat and pressure. Somewhere along the coast was Makoto and Naruko with their family, friends, and seemingly the entirety of Crescent Island’s human population.
Miyo sighed. She still didn’t understand why she had been selected. ‘Out of all the residents in our town, what made them think the foreigner was the best choice to represent them?’
A soft song pulled Miyo out of her thoughts, closer than any of the Sirens she’d sensed gathering for the ceremony. Miyo frowned, closing her eyes slightly to discern its path, tracing it to the edge of the docks. Just as she rose from her seat, a familiar silvery face with mischievous eyes appeared from the water.
“What are you doing here?” Miyo asked before she was even halfway to Youko. Exasperation quickened her voice, but she crouched down to be close to Youko nonetheless, glad to have at least one person who wouldn’t be fussing over her.
“Making sure you don’t run away,” Youko answered with a grin, flicking her lightly with ocean water. “Nearly the whole bay can hear you.”
Miyo flushed. “Oh no, they’re not angry are they? I didn’t mean -”
Youko waved a webbed hand at her. “We get it. Did you know that Hiroki was our representative a couple years ago?” Youko grinned as Miyo shook her head. “She actually passed out from nerves right before the ceremony started.”
Miyo’s eyes narrowed. “You’re making that up.” She couldn’t at all picture Hiroki becoming so uncomposed that she would lose consciousness.
“I’m serious! You can ask anyone. I can even get Hiroki.”
Miyo laughed and held out her hands to forestall Youko. “It’s okay, I believe you,” she said in her most sincere voice, glad that the storm in Youko’s eyes had cleared as quickly as it had come. Miyo always forgot how sharp Youko’s temper could be.
A deep bell rang from the shore and the officials on the docks began to rise from their seats. “I guess we’re starting,” Miyo said, though she didn’t stand up. “Thanks for keeping me company.”
Youko reached up and patted Miyo’s hand, her eyes soft. “You’ll be fine. They wouldn’t have chosen you if they didn’t believe in you and your offering.” A grin spread across her face. “And remember, you can’t do anything worse than Hiroki.”
Miyo splashed at Youko as the Siren leapt away laughing. She watched her silvery form until an official stepped beside her to escort her to the boat, which she did with a silent, grudging sigh.
As the boat slowly made its way to the floating platform, Miyo listened to the history of the ceremony told by a disembodied voice coming from the speakers on the shore. According to legend, there had been a particularly bad summer where Crescent Island had been battered by dozens of tropical storms, causing a great amount of casualties in both the human and Siren communities.
The leaders of both communities came together and sought the wisdom of what was called the Council in those days, a group of humans and Sirens who lived in the in-between of this world and the next. Through consulting with them, the leaders discovered that they had been remiss in their appreciation of the ocean, having not taken time lately to give back or pay respects to their source of food and well-being.
Realizing their shortcoming, the leaders went back to their communities with a plan. Together, they cleaned up the shorelines and made an offering that was both a vow to take only what they needed, and a gift that represented the love and honor with which they held for the ocean.
The offering had been in the form of a glass orb that had passed through all of the villages above water and the villages below water, and was presented by the children of both humans and Sirens atop a small boat.
As they started to float the orb onto the water, a stream of light came from the skies, and a family of dolphins sped through the bay. They circled around the bay, coming close to the shore lined with people and whirled around the Sirens gathered, then left as quickly as they came. But they had taken with them the offering, and afterwards, no other storms came to Crescent Island that season.
“And so every year, humans and Sirens gather together to remember this tradition by selecting one human representative on green years, and one Siren representative on blue years to make an offering to the ocean spirits. This year, the human representative is Master Miyo, who is making her way now to the ceremonial platform in the middle of the bay.”
Miyo swallowed as the boat slowed, bumping lightly against the edge of the floating platform. The officials in the boat helped her step out, but she was the only one to stand on the platform.
She stood for a moment, finding her balance on the gently rocking platform. From here, all of the southeastern coast was spread out in front of her, a sight that had started to become familiar to her over the months.
A quiet had fallen over the bay and she knew that all eyes, both human and Siren alike, were fixed on her. But here, the pressure wasn’t so heavy. Miyo could still feel the anticipation that held all of them in tense silence, but standing there on the platform, with the sun shining down on the sparkling, inviting ocean, Miyo felt that same anticipation also rise in her own self.
‘Oh. So that’s what this is about.’
Miyo smiled then lowered herself onto the platform. She began the motions for a formal tea ceremony, invoking the spirits of the ocean as the ones she was serving. With each movement, the self-doubt and self-criticism that had plagued her eased, and she found herself able to echo Youko’s words with her own internal voice.
As she moved on to boiling the water, however, her vision started to get hazy. She rubbed her eyes, but then realized that a fog had rolled in, despite the sun high in the sky. ‘This is not an ordinary fog,’ Miyo thought as it surrounded the platform. She swallowed but didn’t stop, preparing the teapot for steeping even though her breath had quickened.
After a moment, Miyo noticed a piece of the fog separating from the rest, coalescing in front of her. There was a pulse from it, like a heartbeat, but instead of blood it was an ancient magic that resonated through the air, even through her body. She felt an urge to simply lose herself to it, but the sound of the water boiling kept her grounded.
“It will not help.” It was a hiss of a sound, like the spray of a wave on a sharp cliff-face.
Miyo didn’t answer, though her movements slowed. From the fog came the edges of a face, sadness written in what little features Miyo could make out.
“Why do you do this? Not even our power can stop a storm should it choose to come here. Surely you all have known this.”
The pain in the voice made Miyo’s heart ache. But it was a feeling that she was familiar with, one that reassured her – because that kind of pain could never be spawned from malice.
“It’s okay,” she answered finally, pouring the tea into the waiting teacup. “We’re not looking for someone to blame.” She glanced up and caught the fog form draw back then float forward closer to her.
Miyo smiled, feeling now a warmth emanating from the fog. “I guess you could say this is an excuse for all of us to come together. Because it reminds us that we’re not alone. So even if, or rather, when, something happens, we know we can always come together again to get through it.”
The fog stilled. Her words echoed back to her within the enclosure of the fog, but Miyo sat still, patient and believing.
Warmth gently pressed against her head, then the fog expanded rapidly. Before Miyo could even take in a breath, it had engulfed her, the entire platform, and within moments, the entire bay.
Somehow, Miyo could feel it all happening, as if she were part of the fog, and everything it touched in turn was connected with her and her with it. Each connection was a brightness that added to each other, until it felt like their collective consciousness could outshine the sun.
From the middle of the bay, just behind the platform, water burst forth, spraying upwards into the sky and casting rainbows in its wake. Miyo lifted a hand to block the sun as she watched from the platform, laughing as drops of water fell in her hair.
A sound came to her then, a roar that Miyo realized was a cheer rising from the crowd, joined soon by bells and drums and a cacophony of other sounds. Even the officials were clapping and cheering, beaming at Miyo even as the boat rocked under their celebration.
She smiled then began to gather the teaware once more. But when she glanced in the teacup, where there had been tea was a shimmering pearl, swirling with that same fog inside.
Miyo sent a silent thanks to the spirit, then stepped off the platform into the boat. The officials shook her hand then sped towards the shore in earnest, the feeling of “Let’s go start summer!” evident on all of their faces. Finally, Miyo let herself join in on that feeling, lifting her arms up with the officials as they raced over the water.