When her song ended, the water swirled around her faster and faster. A gigantic whirlpool opened beneath her and sucked her into its depths.
Around and around and down she sank. The turbulence threw her, bruising and battering her until it deposited her on the ocean floor.
Athenia peered through the swirling water. She lay at the center of a liquid whorl which towered above her, leaving the area around her devoid of water, except for a few puddles here and there. Though the churning mass surrounded her, not a drop touched her. A sound like the eruption of an underwater volcano boomed around her. She held her hands over her head and rocked back and forth. When the noise finally stopped, profound silence remained, and she rubbed her ears. Please goddess, don’t let me be permanently deaf.
An eerie green light filtered from so far above her she couldn’t guess how far she was from the surface. Doesn’t matter. If this thing collapses and so much water lands on me, I’ll be crushed.
A female voice echoed around her. “I hear and grant your petition. Remember, favors from the gods are not free.”
“I understand, I’ll do whatever you ask of me.” Why not? I owe one goddess an unnamed favor. Might as well make it two.
The voice answered. “The debt was settled, though not by you. However, you will carry the stain until you redeem what you owe.”
“What? Wait. What do you mean?” Athenia peered around. The swirling pool pulsed around her, but the goddess did not reply.
A few inches at a time, the vortex spread away from her, the whirling motion coming to a stop. The walls sank and reabsorbed, leaving her floating at the top of the water.
The storm had ended, the clouds blown away. In the east, the sunrise sent rosy streaks across the water. As the sun climbed, she rocked on gentle waves. Every muscle in her body ached. Purple bruises stood out like tattoos against her skin. Though she watched for them to fade, they stayed, contrasting starkly with her pale flesh. Guess it’s going to take some time to rejuvenate after this experience.
Triumph sang in her veins. I succeeded, I persuaded Ceto to help me, and I don’t owe her a favor either. This is perfect.
Allowing the water to cradle her, she drifted on her back. So tired, need to rest a little while. What did Ceto mean? Who paid, and why would someone else settle my debt?
With eyes too heavy to keep open, she allowed the Gulf to rock her to sleep.
When she opened her eyes, she believed only a minute or two had elapsed. The sun is still rising, painting the water scarlet with its dawn rays. However, midday heat poured over her. This doesn’t make sense. The hour is too early for this high temperature.
What she saw added to her confusion. The sun is all the way up, but the water is still ruddy. How can that be?
A dead fish floated belly up a few yards away. Another drifted lifelessly beside her. As she inhaled, her chest hurt, and her eyes and nose dripped. More fish popped to the surface from all directions, hundreds of them, their eyes blank and staring. The color isn’t coming from the sun. Oh, my goddess. This is red tide, and it stretches as far as I can see.
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