Nineve could talk to water. She'd been 5 when her gift had come to her, and everyone in her coastal town had rejoiced at having another water speaker. Like many who went through speaker training, her gift became more natural for her than English. Unlike many who went through speaker training, she was not content with remaining in her town.

The water from the river that fed into the ocean carried stories, the sorts of which she had never heard before. Nineve took to writing them down in a leather-bound notebook to share at the nightly bonfires. Over the years, the stories got wilder, and Nineve began to thirst for seeing these stories herself. What more could she discover if she travelled inland? What secrets could a forest creek, or the great lakes tell her?

"Nineve, I just don't understand why you'd want to leave. We could really use your help around here," her mother sighed as she set the table.

"I know mama," Nineve replied as she passed her another bowl to place down. "But I want to go out and see the world. Besides, Entreo is starting to go through speaker training and he's already getting the sea to give us calmer waters during fishing hours. Best I can do is get us more stories of sharks."

"You know, I'm sure if you kept working at it, you could get the sea to give you news from the islands."

"That's Menas' job. Please mama, just one year."

She sighed. "Fine. One year. Then you'll come back."

Nineve threw her arms around her mother, squeezing her in a tight hug. "Thank you thank you thank you!"

Her mother laughed. "Don't thank me yet. We still have to convince your father."

Convincing Nineve's father took work, but eventually he begrudgingly agreed to let her travel. "Just remember to talk with humans every once in a while," he said as she grabbed the last of her things. "Don't want you going waterlogged."

"I promise to talk with actual people and not just water." She pushed onto her toes to kiss his cheek goodbye. Thanks to her training, it was unlikely that she'd lose her ability to speak English, being left only with her gift, which was termed waterlogged. Each type of gift had a similar term—burnout for fire speakers, windswept for air speakers, and so on. Once your gift had consumed your language, there was no way back. It was a fear for every speaker, even stopping some from ever using their gift.

Nineve's travels first took her south to the great lakes that she had been dying to get to. She stayed with locals, working to earn her keep, and recording the long history of the land that the lakes had to share. Next, the far coast, to visit another sea. Then on a month-long walk through a forest, following the whispers of the creeks. The creeks directed her to the plains where the waters spoke of huge cities. There, she found tamed rivers that told her their vague memories of the land before stone and steel took over. Now they knew more of the secrets of humans—of the things thrown into the rivers, words and objects alike. That was how she learned of the hole-in-the-wall speaker clubs she had come to love. Her new friends were happy to share ideas of where she could go next on her pilgrimage. It was a plant speaker that had suggested the mountains, saying that the trees there told him of a hidden underground lake.

That was how Nineve came to be now, practically crawling up the steep slope of a mountain to reach the plateau at the peak. With a huff, she pulled herself over the edge and flopped onto the ground to catch her breath. When she sat up, she blinked in surprise. Sitting at the edge of the peak was a girl. Her back was to Nineve, head tipped to the sky.

"Hello?" Nineve took a few steps forward, coming up on the girl's side. The girl turned and blinked as though she had been lost in thought. When she didn't say anything, Nineve kept talking. "Sorry I was just looking for—there's supposed to be a hidden lake around here. Do you know where it might be?"

The girl hesitated before opening her mouth. The sounds that came out weren't words, at least not ones Nineve could understand. They were warm yet distant, with a sparkling edge to them. Nineve shook her head. "Sorry, I don't understand."

The girl shook her head too. Another series of noises came from her mouth, and she gestured up at the sky before pointing back to herself. Nineve sat down as the realization hit her. "You're starstruck. You have no idea what I'm saying."

The star speaker turned her face back to the stars, the light reflecting in her dark eyes. Nineve sat beside her in silence staring out over the moonlit mountain, searching for a whisper from the water. When the sky began to lighten, the star speaker stood, tipped her head to Nineve, and walked off down the mountain.

The next night, Nineve went back. The girl was there again and she seemed surprised to see Nineve. However, she just shifted over so that Nineve could sit beside her in silence again. This became the new routine for both of them. Come nightfall, they would meet atop the mountain and share a comfortable silence. A week later, the star speaker met Nineve at the bottom of the mountain. She waved a hand in a ‘follow me' motion and led Nineve up a much easier path to the top of the mountain. The next night, Nineve brought sweet buns for them to share. After two weeks, Nineve offered up her journal of water stories to share. When the star speaker shook her head, Nineve picked up a stick, and, determined to share, did her best to draw out the stories in the dirt. It ended with both girls laughing at Nineve's poor drawing skills.

A month after their first meeting, Nineve came to their meeting spot with a picnic basket and her map of the local area. She'd been getting whispers from the creeks on the other side of the mountain about potential locations of the hidden lake and wanted to try to get the star speaker's opinion on it. However, when she got to the plateau, the star speaker was standing there, tapping her foot impatiently. When she saw Nineve, she grabbed her hand and started tugging her up a steep slope of the mountain.

Nineve made a noise of protest but followed anyway when the girl gave her a sharp stare. Up they went, Nineve regretting her choice of shoes the whole way. But the farther up they went, she began to feel something at the edge of her hearing. There were no noises, just the sense that something was there, and she knew exactly what it was. Moving faster, she passed the star speaker, scrambling up the slope until she reached a crack in the side. She hesitated before carefully sliding down the tunnel.

At the bottom of the tunnel, a cave opened up, revealing the underground lake. It was perfectly still, which was the reason why she had been unable to hear it. Above, a hole in the cavern ceiling allowed in light from the stars.

The star speaker came sliding down behind her and grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the edge of the lake. There she knelt down and motioned for Nineve to do the same. Nineve sat down and stared out over the water. This close, she could see that the surface of the lake had a perfect reflection of the night sky.


Nineve whipped her head around to look at the girl. "Did you just?"

The girl grinned. "It works! This is amazing! The stars told me that they'd seen it done in the past, where speakers could communicate through their gifts at certain times, but I wasn't sure, and then I had to find the lake—where are my manners! My name is Aeras." She held out her hand.

Nineve reached out hers. "Nineve."