Every so often, a demon child is born to the isolated farming people of Kera-Dul. Shalana Kaloia was one such child: she arrived as a newborn with wide open eyes as black as obsidian, rim to rim, and without screams. She possessed on her forehead a protuberance like a blood opal, long webbed fingers, smooth periwinkle skin, and filamentous gills on her neck. She suffered on land, but beneath the waves, she was unmatched. But neither her fishing prowess nor her graceful swimming — not even her propensity to detect coming storms — could save her when, one cold misty morning, the people of Kera-Dul voted unanimously to cast her out.
“All in favor of casting out Shalana Kaloia, raise your hand,” said the village chief. One by one, all two hundred people lifted their hands skyward. The village shaman, the teacher, all the hunters, every blacksmith — all of them people Shalana knew — raised their hands. Her mother, perhaps reluctantly, raised her hand too. Then finally her father. But one hand remained unraised.
“The decision must be unanimous,” said the chief. Shalana’s friend, Ymon Yrala, hadn’t yet voted. She alone held Shalana’s fate. But then Ymon’s small shaky hand was raised as well. A jungle of condemning hands and arms rose through the mist.
“Then we are agreed. Shalana Kaloia, for your crime of being demon-born, we take your name. You are now Shalana Ksemoi and we cast you out.”
She was only ten summers old. She had no time to say goodbye to her family or to her goats. She had no time to gather items to assist her survival. They chased her from the village. They carried torches, knives, maces, pitchforks, shovels. They chased her through the iron gates of Kera-Dul, the place that was once her home.
Kera-Dul was only a few short miles from the sea. Shalana knew the way by heart. The air burned her lungs, but the warm brine was a balm. She slid into the water. She hid among the green rocks, seaweed, and urchins.
Suddenly a blue-grey shape materialized in the water. She could smell it: a dragon. It too had periwinkle skin, webbed digits, and a strange crimson jewel on its forehead. It too had large black eyes. Yet it had features she did not: wings, for one, and a heavy club-like tail. Armored plates jutted from its back like a row of knives. But the similarities were undeniable. She didn’t flinch when the creature brought its face against hers. A red light issued from the dragon’s jewel and washed over Shalana. Then the images started, kaleidoscopic and fleeting:
Baby aquatic dragons played on the seafloor.
Family groups constructed homes. They manipulated technology more subtle than the humans’.
Expanses of underwater forests rose and ebbed with the tides of the moon.
Most amazingly, people just like her participated fully in dragon society. They weren’t demons. They raised children, protected the oceans, and lived under the waves, away from those who condemned them.
The creature extended to her an invitation to freedom.
Shalana the outcast stretched out her webbed hands and joined the dragon on a journey into the deep.