The sea sparkled wonderfully in the fading light. Autumn was coming and the sun was setting sooner and sooner. Only a couple weeks ago the light hadn't begun to disappear until after you were home, eating dinner. Yet now, as you sat waiting for your lesson to begin, the orange hues danced across lazy waves. The tune squeezing out of the cracks in the closed door was eerily enchanting. You'd never heard anything quite like it (certainly no pieces composed by humans or elves anyway).
You sat up straight as the song ended and the doorknob turned.
"It's wonderful to see you again. Will you be coming back next week?" your music teacher asked through the door.
"I'm not sure, yet, Throaera," a male voice answered as the door opened.
The elf's blond hair, held up by a black clip, swished as she turned to look at you. She smiled, closing her sapphire eyes, before turning once again to the person behind her. "Well, just give me a call if you decide to start up lessons again, okay?"
The boy that exited as Throaera held open the door wasn't a creature you were familiar with. He looked like an elf, with his pointy ears and thin, tall frame, except that elves all had earth-tone hair colors. His blue-black hair was an anomaly, and yet you knew instinctively that it was the natural color. He had been about to say something when his brown eyes landed on you. Shutting his mouth, he smiled in your direction, revealing small, sharp, pointed teeth; also something distinctly not elven.
"You're taking on human students now? Impressive," the young man stated, throwing the instructor a similar grin before turning back to you. "It's nice to see that some of you are beginning to see the light." He winked and saluted with the white flute he was carrying. The insult was something you were used to from species other than your own, so you brushed it off in favor of examining the flute. You admired the material (which appeared to be seashell) as he exited.
"Dylan! Be nice to my students!" Throaera called after the boy, but he'd already closed the front door behind him. Shaking her head, she sighed and turned to look at you. "Narwhal horn," she stated, noticing your gaze, which lingered on where his flute had disappeared. "Very rare and a very unique sound. Now, shall we begin? You've brought that odd metal human flute, correct?"
You couldn't help but offer up an amused smirk to the elf. She'd been extremely interested in the instrument on your first lesson, and it was a running joke that you continued to use it when an elven flute had an all around better sound and larger range of notes. "I'm human, aren't I?"
"Of course, of course. Let's see if we can't make music this time." The elf winked as she ushered you into the studio with a wave of her hand.
Field Day Partner
The paper that had been taped to the inside of your locker door was clutched between your friend's fingers as she read it through quickly. Looking up, her dark eyes met yours with a question. "Didn't you have Field Days at your old school?"
"No. If we did, do you think I'd be asking what this paper meant, Gwen?"
Paige, another of your new friends, scanned the paper quickly over Gwen's shoulder. "Damn it. Time for a Field Day already?"
"What is a Field Day?!" you asked desperately.
"It's a day devoted to spending time with a creature from the sea." The response caused you to jump and whirl around. Standing behind you was a rather tall, handsome elf, with dyed-green hair. "And if you're smart, you'll hook up with a group so you can ignore your partner."
"Tahlik!" Paige and Gwen rushed him, all goofy grins and giggles. He eyed the two human girls with a hint of annoyance, but otherwise ignored them as he continued talking at you.
"Throaera told me about her new student. Bring your flute and you can come with us for Field Day. We'll be out on the docks, leaving at eight o'clock sharp, so the fish can swim all day."
"Um... okay? Let me call..." (You had to glance down at the paper again for a name.) "... Dylan. And set it up."
After the elf had left and the two girls had collected themselves, all they wanted to do was congratulate you on the invitation. "He's only the hottest elf in school~" Paige cooed happily.
"That's nice. But what did he mean by 'so the fish can swim'?"
"Your partner is either a mermaid, siren, or if you're super unlucky, a selkie."
You'd heard of mermaids and sirens before, but coming originally from an inland town, you were more familiar with dwarves and harpies than the creatures living in the sea. "What's a selkie?"
The girls shared an eye roll and raised eyebrow. "Basically? A seal."
Later that night, before you'd summoned the courage to call the phone number on the paper, your phone rang.
The voice on the other end asked for you by full name.
"This is her."
"Ah, um... I don't know if you got the notice today... but this is Dylan. Your partner for Field Days?"
"Awesome. Well. It's mandatory, in case you were thinking of skipping." He laughed nervously before continuing, "But anyway, just wondering where you wanted to hook up?"
"How about the docks? I guess there's a group going out to swim." You still didn't quite grasp what exactly you needed your flute for...
"Yeah, sure. I was going to suggest that. Probably the same group. See ya there." The smile his voice conveyed was unmistakable. Tahlik's disgust towards whatever Dylan was came back to haunt you in guilt and curiosity. He'd seemed nice enough on the phone; did you really need to subject him to such prejudice? But on the other hand, there was obviously a reason the elf had the prejudice in the first place...
Gwen stood bouncing up and down on the docks excitedly. The back lighting from the sun made her skin appear almost black as she stood there grinning, white teeth luminescent. She'd received an invitation from Luke the previous day, much to Paige's horror. Secretly, you'd been glad. You didn't know Tahlik that well and you didn't even know what Luke looked like.
She waved as you came closer. "You remembered your flute, right?"
You nodded and the two of you lapsed into silence until there was a thump further down the dock. You spied two mermaids perched with their tails mostly in the water looking over at you.
"Aren't you a bit too excited about this, Gwen?" one called over.
"Maybe. But it's none of your business."
"Who's the new girl?"
You were introduced and then promptly ignored. Having never met a mermaid, it almost felt more insulting that two would ignore you so thoroughly after knowing just what and who you were instead of from the get go.
Another girl's head popped up from the sea and smirked seductively at you. "That is the siren," Gwen whispered in your ear.
Next, the boy you'd seen at your flute lesson the past week came waltzing down with a fur pelt thrown over one shoulder.
"Hell-" Gwen began, looking the boy up and down. She abruptly cut herself off and began again. "Oh. A selkie," she spat. "So sorry," Gwen consoled you, even though you didn't know why. The boy looked normal enough to you. So he had pointed teeth and blue-black hair. He was otherwise an elf, right?
"Dylan~!" called one of the mermaids. "Didn't know you were coming. I would have worn my nice seashells."
He winked at the mermaid but said nothing until he'd reached you and Gwen. "[Name], right?" He held out a hand and you shook it. Gwen let out a small grunt of disgust. You glared at her.
"And you're Dylan?"
"I am. And again, it's nice to see that some of you are beginning to see the light." This time, since you were actually paying attention, you recognized the compliment for what it was. Aided, of course, by the humor that twinkled in his brown eyes.
"Thanks?" You glanced at Gwen, who had her upper lip curled like she smelled something exceedingly unpleasant.
There was an awkward moment where nobody spoke. You eyes landed on the fur draped over one shoulder. "I'm sorry, but what is that?"
"This?" Dylan pulled the fur from his shoulder and held it out for you to see. "You're not serious are you?"
Gwen looked at Dylan down her nose. "She's from the mountains, idiot. She doesn't know anything about you blubbies."
"Gwen. Knock it off. Why are you being so rude?" you asked, smacking her in the arm.
"He's a selkie."
"So? What does that have to do with anything?"
"You can't be serious." Gwen proceeded to ignore the both of you in favor of the mermaids and siren (which she was still fairly set on ignoring).
Dylan, meanwhile, had watched the scene with mild amusement mixed with amazement. When you turned back to him he gave you a dazzling grin. "This is my skin."
"Your skin?" you asked in disbelief.
Dylan gave a little smirk and slung it back over his shoulder. "You don't know anything about selkies, do you?"
"And why would she want to?" someone sneered from behind you. The head that extended over your shoulder to glare at Dylan had human ears and bright blue hair.
Dylan's expression grew icy: his eyes narrowing, mouth thinning, and jaw clenching shut. Through pointed teeth, voice low, he asked, "Well. Why shouldn't she want to know?"
The human boy put an arm on your shoulder and turned his gaze to you. "Well? You really want to know about this hunk of blubber and his voodoo?" Hatred, plain and brilliantly hot like the sun, burned in his eyes as he regarded you, awaiting an answer.
"Um. Yeah. Actually. I would kind of like to know about selkies."
"Would you now?" The boy stood up, taking his arm off your shoulder. "Well, I can tell you all you need to know about blubbies. And it won't cost you anything."
Thoroughly confused by this boy, you glanced in the direction of Dylan to discover he wasn't there anymore. There was a loud splash from the end of the docks and the two mermaids giggled before slipping into the water themselves. You couldn't help the anger that rose in you from the boy's interference in your conversation. However, before you could tell him off for being an ass, someone else spoke.
"Well at least you scared them away, Luke." So this was Luke. You regarded him coldly as he walked over to greet Gwen a little too warmly for them to be 'just friends.'
"Shall we? If a teacher catches us on the docks without our partners, we're royally screwed," Luke said, leading the way to the boat. You brought up the rear unhappily.
"Look, I can tell you're mad at Luke. I just don't understand why," Gwen whispered in your ear when the two males had gone to the other end of the boat to look out at the water or something.
"He was a complete ass to Dylan. What did he ever do to Luke?" you hissed, spinning your glass on the table.
"You still don't get it, do you? There's a pecking order here. Us and elves are at the top. Then come dwarves and whatever other creatures come out of your mountains. Then mermaids, sirens, and finally, at the bottom, selkies. It's just the way the world works."
You had never been one to just blindly accept social norms. "But why? What makes selkies so bad?"
"Turning into a fucking seal by putting on a dead one's skin isn't sick and twisted to you?" Luke asked, causing the both of you to jump.
"What?" You couldn't quite wrap your head around what Luke had said.
Gwen and Tahlik, however, confirmed it. "Selkies are demons that kill seal pups and take the skin for their own young. They grow up wearing the seal pup skin, which gives them a more desirable form for swimming," Gwen explained, still looking revolted.
"That's horrible!" you cried. Images of baby seals being brutally murdered by dark elves played across your mind. How could selkies live with that and keep the evidence their entire life? You gave an involuntary shudder.
"And now that you understand that, why don't you play something for us?" Gwen suggested, shoving your flute case at you in an attempt at a subject change.
"Yes. Throaera was very complimentary about you," Tahlik stated, surveying the silver pieces of flute you pulled out of the black case.
Quickly assembling the metal flute, you looked up at your audience nervously. "What do you want to hear?"
"Something that you can only play on that kind of flute," Luke told you, eyeing the elven flute Tahlik held with mild disgust. Tahlik, meanwhile, was eyeing your flute with disbelief, as all elves did. After revealing themselves to humans, there were very few human made musical instruments left in the world, and the contraption you held in your hand and called a flute was one of them. Sorting through sheet music, you finally found a piece that Throaera had tried, and failed, to play on her flute during one of your lessons.
When you'd finished playing, Luke nodded in triumph. "And that, Tahlik, is what music should sound like."
The elf scowled. "That was not music." He proceeded to play a short piece. After taking the flute from his lips he said, "That was music."
"I bet you she could play it, too," Luke goaded, pointing at you. "And it'll sound a hell of a lot better."
After several moments of silence, Luke turned to you. "Throw me a bone. Play it."
You couldn't deny the satisfaction you felt as you repeated what the elf had played and his face hardened in anger. "You've proven your point Luke."
"So!" Gwen interjected, trying to diffuse the mounting tension. "You said you brought cards, right?"
"I think I'll sit this one out," you said, stroking your flute absently.
The boat you were on was quite large. Along with the cabin for the driver, which contained a table and chairs, there was open deck space on the bow with seats around the edge. The two humans and elf sat in the cabin playing cards, so to be alone for a bit, you took your glass and flute and went to sit out on the bow.
Sighing at the quiet rumbling and splashing of the ocean, you relaxed against the railing and closed your eyes. Unfortunately, the call of your name forced your eyes open and over the edge of the boat. Dylan was treading water a few yards off, grinning up at you.
"Want to come in?" he asked. A hand appeared out of the water and beckoned for you to join him. For a split second you thought the finger was a claw and saw another seal pup killed and skinned. You shuddered.
"I'm good on the boat, thanks."
Dylan swam a little closer. "You sure? The water's warm. And I'll save you if you go under." His grin spread so that his pointed teeth glistened in the sun against his tan skin.
"I try to stay out of the water," you answered truthfully, playing with the ring on your left hand absently.
Disappointment came across his face. "Oh. I see." There was silence while you stared off at the horizon, lost in a distant memory. "Well. Want to walk to flute lessons together?"
Snapping back from the memory you'd been entrenched in and shaking your head, you fixed your eyes on Dylan. "Flute lesson? Sure. Whatever."
The selkie didn't miss the apprehension in your voice, although his assumption about why it was there was completely off; it had nothing to do with him or anything you'd just learned about selkies. "Okay. I'm coming up. I think we need to talk."
"Talk about what?" you asked.
Dylan was, by that time, beside the boat, looking up at you. Below the water you could see the seal skin that still covered most of his body. The head floated at about his chest, empty. As you reached down to help him up, a shiver ran down your body. He didn't kill the seal, his mom did, you reminded yourself.
"Thanks." Wet shirt and all, Dylan emerged from the water and climbed into the bow of the ship, pulling the seal skin from his legs and stretching. He pulled off the shirt and set it on the bench to dry. He started to unbuckle his pants, thought better of it, and turned to pick up the seal skin from beside his shirt.
"Yeah." Your eyes followed the seal skin as he brushed it off lovingly and slung it over his shoulder before sitting down across from you. He caught you staring and sighed.
"I supposed you're going to start calling me 'blubbie', too?" The humor in his eyes was gone.
"It's what humans and elves call us. Derogatory slang implying we're demons that steal pelts from seals and rub ourselves in the blubber." Defeat, more than anything, radiated from Dylan as he glanced at the three playing cards. They hadn't noticed that there was an extra passenger quite yet.
"But you do steal pelts, right?"
Dylan laughed. You couldn't find anything funny in it. Even if seals were only animals, it was the same concept as killing gorillas for their hands and feet or elephants for their tusks, and you told him as much. To this accusation, Dylan only grinned playfully at you.
"Is that what they told you?"
Nodding in affirmation only earned you a wider grin from the selkie.
"Well, whether you believe me or not, what you've been told isn't accurate."
"I'm listening." You wanted to believe Dylan. Or at least hear his side of the story. Something that evil in the world couldn't truly exist. Humans had had similar misconceptions about mountain harpies. Most people still believed the horrible rumors, but having known several harpies from school, you knew the rumors to be false. Why couldn't the rumors about selkies also be just that, rumors?
"Really?" You'd obviously surprised him. "You're really going to give me the benefit of the doubt?"
You shrugged. "I know humans aren't the most truthful of creatures." Your father came to mind instantly. It was the whole reason you were there in the first place. Daddy couldn't accept your friendship with harpies, had made up wild stories about things in the house going missing, and finally decided to move.
Dylan regarded you carefully, new respect blossoming in his eyes as the smile grew impossibly wider. "We're actually born as seals, which is why our teeth are pointed. They're seal teeth. Our mothers have to show us how to get our first skin off and emerge as a human."
"So you don't kill seal pups and skin them?"
Dylan snorted in laughter, eyes gleaming from some untold joke. "Of course not. That would be cruel, as you pointed out earlier. Eventually we get to the point where we don't even have to carry our skin around with us, we can change at will."
You let out a huge sigh of relief and the tension in your shoulders evaporated. You hadn't realized just how much you hadn't quite believed your thought that rumors were rumors.
"Now that you know I'm not some sort of monster, want to come swimming?" Dylan asked, standing up.
Looking out at the dark water you shivered and shook your head again. "I'm just fine on the boat, thanks."
"Suit yourself. I should get off the boat before Green and Blue catch me up here." He nodded at the two males sitting at the card table immersed in whatever game they were playing. Dylan winked at you before diving off the end of the ship, seal pelt in hand.
His head came out of the foam. "Oh, and watch my shirt?"
Eyeing the black t-shirt that was still drying in the sun you sighed, "Didn't give me much choice, did you?"
"True. Be back for it in time for flute lessons, though. Thro' prefers me clothed." The twinkle of natural good humor from earlier was back in his eyes as he pulled the pelt over his head and a seal floated in the water, staring at you with the same light in its eyes. With a nod, it dove into the water and was gone.