As soon as Carina was on her dolphin, she was speeding away at full throttle. Rumble, the turtle, had a full load with Bhoora and Rachit. After watching Zariah leave, Avi eventually came to the waterline. A pink dolphin was there waiting for him. He took one last look at the path Zariah had left in the sand. He climbed on the dolphin, and they took off at incredible speed.
In only a few minutes, Avi's dolphin had caught up with Rumble, who was bearing Rachit and Bhoora. When Rachit saw Avi approaching, he shouted to him.
“Where’s Zariah?” he said.
“She took a different path.” Avi steered his dolphin toward the massive turtle so they wouldn’t have to shout.
“Aren’t you going to go after her?” Rachit said.
“I—uh—” Avi said. “You guys had already left, and I didn’t know what to do.”
“Well, at least there’s Amoli Patel,” Rachit said. Avi looked across the horizon. He didn’t want to have this conversation.
“I’m going to catch up with Carina,” Avi said. He patted the dolphin. That didn’t work, so he tried the dorsal fin.
“Lean forward,” Rachit said from his turtle top perch. Avi tried it. With the shift in weight, the dolphin raced to incredible speed.
Bhoora and Rachit lagged far behind. It took fifteen minutes for Carina to appear on the horizon. It took about an hour to catch up with his sister.
“There you are,” Carina said.
“So I guess Zariah rode Rumble,” Carina said when she saw it was only Avi. She couldn’t possibly suspect the truth. Avi let her misconception stand. He didn’t want to discuss her.
The dolphins that Avi and Carina rode had a seemingly endless supply of energy. It was incredible how quickly they could move across the water at such a sustained pace. Carina laughed endlessly as the mist soaked her hair and clothes. The wet breeze tickled their faces as their aquatic friends powered forward ever faster.
The sun was past the horizon when the silhouette of the island came into view. It would likely be hours before Bhoora and Rachit neared their destination on their slow-moving turtle shell.
Jazira seemed to rise from the water like a little kingdom all its own. It was beautifully outlined in the setting amber sun rays of dusk. A forest of trees hugged the beach like the remaining hair on an otherwise bald island. Houses nestled in with the tree-covered shores, and a taller yet still modest central building sat atop the sandy tip of the small isle. Avi had always thought of his hometown of Sundar as small, but this island city was tiny.
By the time the two siblings had arrived at the shore, the sky was nearly dark. A beautiful array of stars were peeking through the deepening blues. Their reflection danced across the surface of the water. They touched down on the sandy line where the water met the land and climbed off their finned friends. Avi checked for his shoulder-strap satchel before remembering that he had tied it to Bhoora, who was taking a drier ride.
“When do you think Bhoora and Rachit will be here?” Avi asked. Carina looked out over the water.
“Probably morning,” she said with a smile, but then added. “A morning sometime next year.” Carina laughed to herself. She didn't seem to notice that Avi did not join in the levity. She said an affectionate goodbye to the freshwater dolphins. They turned their attention to the island and discovered that they were already being watched. In another minute, island people surrounded them. Some carried candle lanterns; a few even had battery-powered lights. They circled Avi as Carina gave Pinky one last pat before he swam away.
“Welcome to Jazira,” voices rang out above the rest of the chatter. Their smiling faces expressed their charm and friendliness as they ushered the siblings toward the village center. Dozens of children scampered about their feet, each touching the strangers in turn. Firelight illuminated the path, as the people, probably thirty or forty, moved en masse. Among them was a single shining shepherd. She was easy to spot, for her luminous skin and rings shining upon her head.
“Hello, friends,” the glowing shepherd said. “I am Oksana. I am the shepherd of Jazira.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Avi responded. After introducing his sister, they found their way to the village square where the inhabitants of the village, probably all of them, circled up, sat around a central bonfire, then waited. The shepherd specified a place where they, too, could sit. Their audience watched them as they took their seats. Once they were down, the shepherd began the conversation.