Interlude: Bubbles

"Jen!" Rosa said. "You've got to come and see this!"

"What, there's something dangerous?"

"No! Yes! Well, maybe. I think we'll be safe if we're careful. We don't have to go far from the road, anyway. Aren't you coming?"

"I suppose." Jen got to his feet. "If you think so..."

She took his hand, and led him away from their little camp by the roadside, into the trees. Jen held tight, careful not to lose her in the night. People didn't go into the woods on a whim, but Rosa always had to be different. What had she found this time?

There were lights in the distance, white lights. "There's other people there?" he said, dropping his voice to a whisper in case the strange presence heard him speak.

"No, not people." She led him on through the pines, and he saw.

Ghostly shapes in pale white drifted through the trees, winking in and out of sight between the branches and trunks. They were slow moving, carried through the air by the slightest breath of the wind. The largest were big enough that he'd need to hold them in both hands, while the smallest would have fit inside a teacup. They looked like lanterns to his eyes, lit from within, but their light was a pale silver like the moon, and they were unmistakably living things, though like no living thing Jen had ever seen. From below their floating, translucent bodies dangled tendrils like lacework, drifting behind them in trails of light.

"Aren't they beautiful?" Rosa said. "I wonder how they float like that, it must be some sort of light gas." Her face, beaming with excitement, was illuminated in the bizarre glow.

"I suppose so," said Jen. He stepped back, as one of the things floated past his face, its light dazzling his eyes for a second. He blinked, and saw white afterimages on the inside of his eyelids.

"Oh yes, be careful," Rosa said. "I don't think they've got blood, but they've probably got other ways. Look at those tentacles! Of course I suppose they'd have to have some kind of venom, else they'd all get eaten. I wonder what it does?"

"I think it's a bit late to worry about that," said Jen. "Tentacles? Venom? Really?"

"I'm sorry," Rosa said. It seemed she'd suddenly realised what her words had done, as her expression fell. "I thought you'd like to see it, after... everything."

"I suppose I don't see things like you do," said Jen. "It's different now, after... after Mother." He thought back to an ice filled fortress perched halfway up a cliff, and the things he had seen there...

He'd been lucky. He hadn't seen his mother become engulfed in ice and all to save them, and for that he was grateful. But Rosa had woken up first, and she'd seen her looking back. She'd seen things he never had and hoped he never would do, and she was still able to drag him to see these... things... and talk about how beautiful they were?

Maybe he should try looking at it like her. He wondered what it was like to be so sheltered that everything about the world outside was new and fascinating, rather than being raised to see it all as a danger. Another of the creatures, smaller this time, floated before his face. It caught his breath as he exhaled, and tumbled away.

He looked up, at their dance that reached all the way to the distant treetops, like stars close up.

"You know," he said, "I think you're right."

"I'm right?"

"It is beautiful."