There is a man who lives at the edge of a great sandy desert that used to be grasslands, and he's rocking on his chair at the front of his house, back and forth, back and forth. Creak, creak, creak.
His family's been there ten generations, back to before the weapons that leeched the life from the soil struck, and he's not giving up his land for anything. His father was proud to coax a few sprouts from the earth by the dying creek, and damned if he isn't proud too.
Not that his sons stuck for anything, but if he's the last, he'll go down with the land itself. There's an old deed on the wall, after all, pledging all these acres to them, and he's not giving it up, even if it's been years since the creek ran and the crops grew.
He's not bitter, exactly, just taciturn, but what's an old man to do but wait and rock and maybe fish if he can shuffle his old bones down to the sea? It's not a bad life, even with Lily gone on to the heavens.
Creak, creak, creak. Creak, creak, creak.
There's a thunder coming down the coastline, but it won't get this far. His knee isn't aching, for one thing, hasn't for past half a decade. It's a six year drought he's working on, and the last rainstorm was near a miracle as he's ever seen.
Sun's setting over the mountains. Red and hot, getting cooler. Just about time to uncork the jug of hooch by his chair, maybe start sipping. Blue'll be down soon from the field rocks marking the edge of the land. There's something to be content for.
Sand's moving now, streaking in a blur, and up comes the little jewel-colored thing, all coated with sand. "Up here, you." he grunts, stroking the scales, fond of the thing despite himself. Blue tilts his lizard-like head, all armored in turquoise-colored resin, and whistles a bit, a carrier signal that the man takes as affection from the gear-driven beastling.
Blue's a new thing, newfangled from the isles like the woman who built him. New like the sails of bellwethers he sees sometimes from the seaside when he's out fishing. New like everything else in this dying land, and where he'd like to be suspicious as his old man was, he can't begrudge the little miracles.
It whistles in his ear now, a miracle, tuning in, and orchestra music sings out of Blue's mouth, a rousing set of strings underlined by drums and trumpets. Ah, yes.
Aia'd been one of those miracles, all cast up on the shore and covered in blue markings, a wonder to not have drowned. But then again, she wasn't exactly flesh and blood, none of the mer were. Solid enough to touch, solid enough to hold, though.
That's a bit bitter of a thought, he thinks, and takes a swig of the whiskey. It blurs out the stars as they begin to glitter in the black night, makes them dance a bit. Or maybe that's his eyes getting old, not the seawater in them.
She'd found the old tech out in the shed, not touched, and worked wonders with it. When she built the signal, they quarreled, him desperate not to lose her. Come full moon, though, with her singing up top of Founder's Rock, he'd understood.
Woman was the sea and of the sea, and she'd broken his heart and made it whole. Bit by bit, she'd given him one last gift: she'd sung the rain down from the heavens, and just for a full, gravid moon, the land was green again.
But it was gone, just like her. Some things you can't take back: not bitter words, not bitter earth.
Common men and half-mer peers of the Republic don't mix so much. He'd woke one day with the signal out and Aia gone from his bed, and known that down to his marrow. Bitter fruit from a bitter land can't keep the sea.
The music fizzles, buzzes from Blue, and the lizard whistles despondently in carrier loss. The old man takes another swig of his drink and another, watching the stars dance in the sky, curling about like her bare feet across the wood floors of the house. Watches, thinking about the rain that won't get this far.
He's tired, he thinks, so tired, he'll just sleep out on the porch tonight, never mind the chill or his old bones. Just here.
Signal lights blink out over the sea, too far to touch. It's bellwether season, them riding the air currents. His head slips sideways, his spectacles slide down his nose, his eyes drift shut. Blue curls up against his neck, pulling warmth from his red-burned skin. It's not a bad night. Not too bad at all.
He sighs once before he slips into dreams where the rain patters on the old battered metal roof of his house, soft and sweet like feet pattering across the aged floorboards.
Blue whistles soft and sweet in his ear and is gone, lifted away by gentle hands. Then the spectacles. There's a soft sound and the scent of the sea, a murmuring voice, and he must be dreaming to stagger to bed with a slender body half-holding him. Must be dreaming, his boots going thud-thud on the bleached wood under the bedstead.
But as he drifts off into a sweeter dream than he's known in a while, there's a body, cool and soft, curving against his own sun-red skin, and there's a soft drumbeat like rain against the roof and windows of the man's old house.