The peaks of the coral mountains surrounding the valley were starting to gain their usual cobalt hue, suggesting to the people that it was time.

The bell sounded once, then twice, and Evora felt her stomach turn. Nervously, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other to get a better look towards the delta from her place on the large, sandstone rock. The light had turned from a shining white to a glooming blue, and like the rest of the village she knew that time was now of the essence.

Always be back before the dawn, her mother’s voice resounded in her head as she looked up at the stary night sky. The dancing green lights above her were slowly fading, and the moon had reached the end of its journey across the sky. She had seen the northern lights many times before, but following her recent discovery, she solemnly greeted them goodbye.

It was only late in the summer, but preparations were already being made for the winter. Harvesting the salty crops and bringing in the livestock from the greener pastures across the river spoke of changing times, and like everybody else, she dreaded the winter with desperate anticipation. Five long months with little view of the outside world, and no moonlight for months on end. The bell rang a third time. She looked around and listened. She could almost feel the ground shaking before her father's tall silhouette finally appear from across the river. Like the fool he was, he had insisted on taking the enormous animals where pastures were greener and the seaweed was full of nutriments.

Galloping across the delta, the herd was headed towards the house, some of the older bulls struggling to keep up. Despite their short legs and barrel-shaped bodies, the massive mammals moved at an incredible speed, and as they moved across the valley their hooves almost sounded like thunder. Although the adults could hold their breath for five minutes at a time, the calves could only last about forty seconds, not nearly long enough to stay outside after dawn. Only once, an old bull had not come back in time, and thus had spent the night outside.

Expecting to find him dead and roasted by the unforgiving heat of the dawn, instead they found him grassing peacefully under the moonlight, entirely undamaged apart from a rosy, wounded snout.
Evora had often dreamt that he could speak, and she had asked him about his experience above the water’s surface. According to her great grandmother, the water had risen for decades before the heat had become unbearable, and without the daily flood, the valley would have been burned to ashes like the rest of the world. Enclosed from all sides by the coral mountains, the Moon protected the valley by raising the water far above the mountains. Every morning, all year around. At least that was what the stories told.
Jumping down from the sandstone rock, Evora rushed to open the gates as the herd entered the stables like a colony of ants. Being the only family with a stable big enough for breeding, their importance was indisputable, and through her father’s linage, she was expected to take up the work as a shepherdess before her sixteenth birthday. Little did they know however, that Evora had other intentions entirely, especially since her recent encounter in the woods.

“Come on, my girl, time to close up for the day,” her father rushed in an exhausted breath as he stepped of his animal and lifted the heavy wooden block keeping the outer door in place. Although he had come back later than usual, they meticulously covered the entrance with the watery soil from within. Afterall, the arrival of the flood was as forceful as it was inevitable, and securing the house without the proper attention to detail was a mistake they had made only once. The fourth ring of the bell sounded as they closed the door between the stables and the house, and before they had taken off their humid clothing the flood had already begun.

Placed in the armchair in the corner of the modest living room her great grandmother snorted as she awoke from her afternoon slumber. She was older than most people in the village and her small, hazel eyes made it more difficult for her than younger generations to see in the darkness of night. As her parents started preparing the dinner in the kitchen, Evora took her chance to ask the question which had been burning on her lips ever since her rare encounter in the woods.

“What does the moon do when it has crossed the sky?” she asked her as she started lighting the candles all around the cave stone house.

She had always been fascinated about stories of the daylight, and her great grandmother knew more than most about the time before the water. Stories of otherworldly animals, some who were not even able to swim, and some who could fly, and stories of another moon, a moon so bright that it could make the people blind. Despite the tales however, nobody had ever attempted to reach for the surface by blue hour’s end, and although her great grandmother was one of the few who still remembered a time before the water, her old age had made her much less receptive to pleading, and the stories of the daylight thus slowly faded with her memory.

“It simply goes back the same way it came,” her great grandmother answered with a wink and a glance towards the kitchen.

“Back and forth across the sky it goes, and so it will for all eternity, the moon governs the water.” She spoke loudly making sure her answer could be heard from the other room.

“But you said there used to be daylight above the surface, right? What if it is still there?” Evora almost whispered and jumped as she noticed her mother standing beside her, a steaming pan in hand.
“There is nothing up there, Evora, how many times do I have to tell you?” her mother said as sheplaced the pot on the table. Following her secret discovery however, she was not so sure she believed her mother’s words anymore. Aggravated, she served her great grandmother and herself, and ate their meal in silence, and as the deep rumbling sound announced the arrival of the whales, she was determined, that it would be her last day sleeping inside her house in the valley.

She had found the creature behind the house as she was scouting for scallops and jellyfish left behind by the flood. As usual, she had spent the day looking after the calves too young to make the journey across the river, and as she had started drinking from the river, a tiny animal no larger than the pedals of a moon flower, had been laying on the ground beside the creek. Inspected its strange, otherworldly form, she had almost forgotten to breathe.

Although she scarcely recalled every page on the tattered book her great grandmother kept in the attic about the pre-historic species, she did remember the title; Creatures of the skies –a study of birds, and while looking down on its green, lifeless body, she had realized. With the end of a stick, she had poked the tiny animal and as if having been under a spell, it had suddenly moved, scaring Evora into letting out a scream. Landing on a branch, the bird had flapped its wings like a fish out of water and had swiftly taken flight towards the horizon. Stunned, Evora had hardly been able to move while trying to imprint the memory unto her mind. She closed her eyes to filter out the impressions of her surroundings, and with head-aching force, the implications had dawned on her slowly.
There was life beyond the valley.

In the weeks that followed, she had practiced holding her breath in the river. Carefully considering the implications of her voyage, she had quickly decided that trying to float from the ground toward the surface while the water was rising would be too risky. She didn’t know what happened behind the closed doors after blue hour, but she knew that the water was rising fast and with incredible force, something that could kill her long before the water would even have stopped rising. A balloon was by far the safest choice. Its floating qualities she had also tested in the river, and by the end of thesummer, she was finally ready. She would hide in the hollow maple tree and had spent much time assuring that her hideout had been properly secured. For the first time in her life, she did not intend to return to the house at the end of night, and although the thought frightened her, she had to know what was above the surface after the moon had crossed the sky. A hummingbird was not supposed to survive a day in the burning daylight.

Dusk came quickly on the day of her undertaking and the bell assured the people that the valley was safe once again. In the subtle reflection of the candlelight still burning by her bedside, Evora gathered her things. She kissed her great grandmother goodbye before they again opened the heavy wooden. The moon had already started to rise, and the hippos were stumping impatiently by the turning of the hinges, and as her father went off toward the pastures, and Evora headed towards the river. The left lake had returned to its banks, but the soil was still moist as she reached the hollow maple tree. Smooth, silky clouds made it difficult to navigate the humid terrain without the beaming shine of the moon, but her hideout had remained intact and by blue hour’s end, she crawled into the maple tree and waiting for the fourth call of the bell. Waiting inside her wooden shelter, she tried shake the thought of her mother’s despair when they would close the house for the flood without Evora inside, but soon, she heard the water coming.

As the bell rang for the fourth and final time, she tightened her grip around the line tied to her waist. She took a deep breath and burst open the entrance. The water entered with incredible force, and for a second, she thought the balloon had burst, but whirling around in the water she suddenly felt the pull of the rope tighten around her waist. Turmoil sucked her out of the tree int the valley, and when she opened her eyes, she found herself already at the height of the branches. She had never seen such beauty.

The world she knew was bathed in bright, sparkling light, flooded with clean blue water. Colourful creatures in all shapes and sizes were gathering around the trees, eating from the seaweed growing from their trunks like a colony of ants. Like the flying animals in her great grandmothers’ stories, turtles were swimming in the wide-open space where the air used to be, and the grovelling seaweed normally laying around the valley in big, slimy bulks had risen to incredible heights and swayed softly in the water like tall, slippery trees. Feasting on the lush vegetation of the flooded valley, the animals hardly seemed to notice the strange girl floating upwards through the treetops in their bright, blue world. A deep rumbling song travelled through the water, and in the distance, she spotted the ones they called the whales. Gliding elegantly across the underwater forest, a flock of massive animals appeared from beyond the valley. Much larger than the bulls she had guarding every night from her spot on the sandstone rock.

Like flying giants, they feed on the lush green crowns of the trees, and a curious young calf noticed the balloon. Separating from the herd, it started following her upwards and as she looked into the eyes of the enormous creature, she almost forgot about her voyage, but as the water turned lighter the houses beneath slowly faded from sight and she suddenly felt the need to breathe. Soon, the colourful creatures and the trees were out of sight too, then the mountains to the east.

Still following the rising balloon, the whale sang in a deep, hauling rumble and soon, they were surrounded by nothing but bright, blue water. Like floating amongst the stars, she almost failed to notice her breath abandoning her. Desperately, she pushed forward with firm, struggling strokes, and as if frightened by her desperation for air, the whale turned around and left her unaccompanied.

She soon lost her sense of direction, but to her surprise, she suddenly felt like she was no longer ascending, and as she looked up, the balloon appeared to be dangling in a line between dimensions. She had reached the top of the mountains.

With a last forceful stroke, she threw her head above the water’s surface as a bright, brilliant moon sparkled in the distance and the stars had disappeared. The air filled her lungs as she stretched her neck and emerged from the soothing water. Standing on the edge of surface, she noticed a bright green circle had emerged around the black centre of her large, oval eye. She studied her reflection in the surface and giggled. It made her look quite different.

As she looked around, a group of baren islands revealed themselves in the mist behind the horizon. Between her and them was an ocean and a burning light too bright to look at. She covered her eyes, and as she heart filled with exhilaration about the success of her undertaking, she failed to notice the colour of her skin turning red. Desperately, she looked around but there was no shade in sight. The burning turned her skin into dark aching spots, and she soon screamed in pain. Horrified, she realized what she had to do. Tears started flowing down her cheeks as picked up the rock with both hands. She didn’t know how long she would be able to hold her breath.

With burning hands, she tied the rock with the rope she had used for the air balloon around her waist, took a last look towards the horizon and jumped back down into the deep blue waters.