“Curiosity. That’s all that brought you here? You just… found a dark hole and walked your way in?” There was disdain in Sarestra’s face as they walked out into the sunlight.
“Well, why not? Don’t you ever explore anything?”
They stopped, mostly at the whim of Halena’s feet. She was staring ahead, out beyond the rock wall to the vast field of blue beyond. It went out and out and out, its horizon a vague disturbance at the edge of clouds, melding into sky so that, unless she thought carefully about it, she could not tell where the sea ended. “Oooh” she said. “That’s beautiful.”
Sarestra shrugged. “It’s the bay.”
“I know, but look at it.” Halena abandoned her would-be captor and might-be friend, and went right to edge, right to the wall, and leaned over the edge as far as she safely could. “It’s huge! There’s no edge. And look how it sparkles in the sun.” She turned around. “You look at that and you tell me that you don’t feel an itch to start swimming? Or to get a boat and see how far you can go?”
Sarestra started to shake her head, but she was looking out now with curiosity. “I wonder about what’s beyond it,” she admitted. “I think we all do.” Then she shook her head in earnest, fipping strands of white hair back and forth. “No, but there are stories of thsoe who have tried.” She gestured. “There’s just more of this. Nothing else. More blue. More water. More sky.”
“Maybe you haven’t gone far enough out yet, then.”
“Maybe nothing else exists.” She gave Halena a shrewd look. “Would you really be one of those mad sailors? The ones who go beyond the bay, beyond the reef? Most of them die or disappear.”
“Doesn’t mean there’s nothing out there.” She turned around and hopped up to sit on the wall, settling into a groove worn by wind and time and many hands. “Just that it protects its secrets. But no. I don’t like open spaces much.” She looked up, tracing the great stone staircase shape of the city as it rose above their heads, right up to the tree-fringed top. Home. “This place is okay, but I like dark spaces. Small spaces.”
“The tunnel you followed.”
Halena spread her arms in excitement. “It’s such a long tunnel! And no one knew it was there! That’s the best part.”
“But don’t you worry? No one maintains it. No one takes care of it. There are all those trees and ground pressing down on it. What if it… What if it just collapses and buries you alive?”
“Then I die,” Halena shrugged. “But until then I get to explore. I get to see new things. This is all you ever see? Just the same streets over and over and over?”
“It’s safe. My family has a keen interest in keeping me that way.”
“It’s boring. I don’t know how you stand it.” She looked to the sky. “But I know what you mean about family. Mine’s probably worried about me.”
Sarestra nodded. She looked thoughtful, her gaze travelling out to the waters, and lifting beyond. “Where *do* you live?” She asked. “How? In a cave? Are you wild?”
“Ha, no. It’s… My father built us a home. It’s something he learned how to do when he was younger. He used to explore, too, but out in the forests. He’s been all the way to the Crater’s Edge, and all the way to the Harangin border, as far as he could go before they turned him around and sent him on his way. He said he was always looking for something, but didn’t know what it was until he found it. Then he built his last shelter, and that’s where we live.” She gestured up, way up, towards the gently waving green fronds of distant trees at the top of the cliffs. “It’s just out there. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. He comes to the city sometimes, but I usually stay in the trees. But it’s up there. Out there.”
“And they just let you wander.”
“As long as I come back. As long as I’m safe.”
“I see.” The look in Sarestra’s eye sharpened. It was a strange, subtle thing, but it gave Halena a moment’s pause. She wondered, suddenly, if she shouldn’t have stopped talking earlier. It was a big forest. It would be hard for someone unaccustomed to find their way, but she suddenly had concerning visions of this pampered and pedicured creature making her way through brambles with the self-assured determination of someone who didn’t know any better.
And she wasn’t sure who she was more afraid for, Sarestra or herself.
“Right,” Sarestra said abruptly. “That’s enough, I think. Time to get you home, yes? You have parents that are worried. Back through the tunnel, or… if I take you up, to the city’s roof, could you find your way back?”
“Um. The tunnel is fine.”
She saw what looked like a brief flash of disappointment on Sarestra’s face – no trail to follow for her, except through the dark depths. Less than ideal.
“The tunnel it is. Come on.” She waved Halena on, completely unneccessarily. “And for the future, if you ever want to come back, I’ll make certain that it’s never sealed. All right?”