DoA August Monthly Challenge
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Samoa’s cave looting is a bust, but a storm brings in something much more interesting.
The light had failed. Not that much light penetrated to the depths they were currently swimming in. Only a dim orange glow from her angler bulb illuminated the motes of marine snow, and once in a while the slender white body and yellow pinpricks of light from Arozzi flashed to the fore.
Ancient ruins rose in the dark, coral covered and teeming with life. Samoa knew them fairly well by now. Arozzi had long been promising to take her to the cave system below the sunken city, and had finally made good on his promise. The mouth of the main cavern was situated under a massive statue of some land creature. She had found it rather funny that it appeared they needed to bow before it to enter into the caves below.
Arozzi didn’t quite understand her sense of humor.
Led on by the lines of glowing yellow bulbs from Arozzi, she followed his winding path through the spires of the stone temples. Or what she assumed had been temples. Whatever had built them before they sunk to the bottom of the ocean had been artistic, not always making the wisest construction decisions.
Not that she would know. She could only guess some areas had not been properly constructed seeing as they were leaning at odd angles or completely flat or shattered on the seafloor now. Or some terrible earthquake or tsunami had destroyed sections of the once marble city.
Either way, many other creatures called it home now and it was a prime spot for looting.
If only she had more time to properly explore it this time around. Perhaps if she hadn’t elected to bring along her Stryx friend who required oxygen more often than she or Arozzi did, they could have gone deeper than the first chamber of the system.
“Arozzi, how long were we down there?” she called out ahead.
It should have started to lighten up as they climbed out of the colder waters of the deep, but it remained vaguely lit and shadowy the higher they swam.
“Not long enough for night to have fallen,” Arozzi answered, a disembodied voice in the dark. The tiny dots of light paused and doubleback towards her in a curved line. “A storm must have rolled in while we were down there.”
“I saw the cloudbank on the horizon this morning, but it didn’t look like it was supposed to come in,” Samoa said. “Osha didn’t say anything about it hitting tonight.”
A beak tapped her tail fin.
She pivoted in the water to face the Stryx. In the halo cast by her bulb she saw pastel feathers gesture upwards.
“It appears your friend needs oxygen,” Arozzi commented with a displeased tone.
Samoa turned her rostrum towards the surface and with a flick of her tail, shot through the water as fast as she could with a large bird harnessed to her. Arozzi kept pace with her at a distance.
Shafts of muted light started to break through overhead.
Aloha pushed off of her back and hit the surface first. Samoa broke through a second later and released a breath in exchange for a fresh one.
Salty droplets streamed off of Aloha’s waterproof feathers and the clear nictitating membranes slid back from her orange eyes. Samoa was always impressed that a creature of the sky would dive to such great depths with her. The ocean could be quite dangerous for someone who was not built to navigate it, for someone who had wings instead of flippers.
As she tilted her head to eye the ashen sky sitting low over the waves, though, she realized that currently the sky was probably just as dangerous as the ocean for Aloha.
“Are you going to be okay getting to land?” Samoa asked.
Aloha blinked and swung her head around. “I should be able to get above the storm if I can get aloft.”
Arozzi’s head surfaced a couple yards from them. His eyes narrowed into slits as he observed the roiling thunderheads. “You Stryx are utterly insane.”
“Says the guy who lives in the presence of leviathan,” Aloha said. “I think we are all a touch mad.”
Samoa pushed herself further out of the water at the crest of a wave before sinking into the trough. A silhouette to the north loomed above the horizon and below the clouds.
“There’s an island a couple kliks northwest of us,” she said.
Arozzi popped up from the water higher. His eyesight wasn’t the greatest in daylight, though with the darkened skies, Samoa had a feeling he could at least partially see what she was talking about.
“I didn’t realize the caves were so close to land,” he muttered. “Some of them must run under and through the island.”
Aloha nodded. “There are plenty of lava tubes in this island chain.”
Samoa rode the next swell up to its crest and leapt from the water, leaving foamy webbing in her wake. What was that? She dove head first into the trough and went through the motion again, flying into the slanted rain as it pelted down.
So, her eyes did not deceive her the first time.
“Hey! There’s something floating in the water over there!” she shouted over the crack of thunder.
“It’s a storm, krill brain, of course there’s going to be debris in the water,” Arozzi shouted back.
“It’s not debris,” Samoa said. She bumped into Aloha. “Come on, I think it’s something alive.”
Aloha took her at her word and rehooked her harness onto the one strapped on Samoa.
Samoa oriented herself and began powering through the water below the tug of the waves, trusting Arozzi to be on their tails. He may have pretended to be an uninterested barnacle most of the time, but she knew that he had an adventurous streak. Why else would he have guided her and two of her podmates through their Trials? That’s not something an ordinary plank in the mud would do.
Sure enough, his yellow bulbs appeared below her in a serpentine line, gliding through the water with zero friction and no sound. She put a little more effort into her swimming. Aloha was meant to be sliding through the sky, not the water, and the drag was draining her energy.
Arozzi pulled up.
Samoa stopped and Aloha bobbed beside her. The three of them peered up at the blocky, foreign shape ten feet above their heads.
“Looks like it came from one of the land creatures,” Samoa said. Most things that were constructed from wood came from the land creatures.
Arozzi slid through the water slowly, bending the bulbs on his cheek frills forward. Samoa hung back. Aloha brushed her dorsal fins with her flight feathers. She shrugged her off, too enthralled watching the older Aqrion slither closer and closer.
Tangles of kelp danced around the broken land debris as did frayed ropes. Small fish were already seeking shelter within the large leaves under the wood. The minnows swarmed the glowing bulbs around Arozzi’s head as he stretched out his neck, nosing around the underside of the wooden raft.
Arozzi flinched and growled, knocking into Samoa as he backtracked away from the raft. Bubbles burst out of her blowhole in a disconcerted stream and Aloha pecked her.
“What was it? What happened?” she questioned.
He snarled a mouth full of needle teeth at the raft. “A human happened.”
Samoa immediately lurched to the surface, yanking Aloha along with her.
Aloha gasped once they broke the surface. “About time, you lolo, I kept trying to tell you.”
“Tell me what? That there’s a human up here?” Samoa asked, whipping around to stare at the Stryx wide eyed.
Aloha detached from the harness and awkwardly paddled her way over to the raft. Samoa followed at a distance. She could see the glow of Arozzi down below, well out of the way of the supposed human.
Then she saw it. Small and skinny like another stalk of kelp.
No one in her pod had encountered humans before. Only the massive and imposing Jaeger they occasionally ran into when crossing the gulf had any tales to share about humans, and they were all horrifying.
This limp four limbed creature clinging to the raft for dear life hardly looked able to harpoon a Phin, let alone a Fluke.
On the flip side, Aloha spent a lot of time on land with the humans and had never mentioned any problems, she was in reach of the one on the raft right now, so Samoa wondered where the discrepancy was.
Aloha was also speaking in another language. One Samoa did not know, but the human seemed to understand.
The scared whimper was universal, however.
She cruised through the water up to the raft, looking at the human and then Aloha for cues. To Samoa’s surprise, the human became excited once it laid eyes upon her. It spoke rapidly to Aloha.
“What’s happening? What’s it saying?” Samoa asked, getting excited herself.
Aloha gestured for the human to quiet down for a moment. “He was washed out of the lagoon while collecting kelp.”
All the kelp tangled around the raft made sense, then.
“But is he happy to see me? He looks happy to see me,” she said.
The human had a round face with no rostrum or long snout like the Aqrions, only a small bump for a nose. His eyes were brown and wide and stared into hers with such joy, that she could not imagine he could be violent.
At least, she could not imagine it until his face melted into fear and he pointed behind her.
Arozzi had risen out of the water and was watching them. For some reason he struck more panic into the human than the cloud-to-cloud lightning above them that bathed the ocean in brilliant white light before splitting it with thunder.
Aloha shushed and patted the human on the head on his strange black mane.
“He says his tribe has had run-ins with Arozzi’s kind before,” Aloha explained. She glanced over at him. “Arozzi, come show the boy you aren’t going to eat him.”
Arozzi exhaled two jets of cold air from his snout and sank below the surface. Samoa frowned. He had completely disappeared from view.
“Okay, well, that’s something I’m going to ask him about later,” she muttered. She looked back at Aloha and the human. The human pointed at her and spoke to Aloha again.
“His tribe believes dolphins and Phins are good luck,” Aloha said. She furrowed her brows and asked the human something else. He laughed and made a flying sweep with the dextrous paws on his front limbs. “And he thinks I’m a soggy chicken, apparently.”
The grin ebbed away. She could sense something in the water. A creature singing under the waves, still a long ways away. The pitch of the notes told her it was an incredibly large creature.
“Can we get him to land?” she asked.
Aloha eyed her. “Something wicked this way comes, does it?”
“I think it might be a Fluke, possibly Jaeger,” Samoa whispered, as if the human would understand her.
Aloha took a deep breath. She spoke to the human again.
Samoa slipped below the surface when Arozzi brushed her tail fin. With her whole self in the water she could hear the singing much better, and it did indeed sound huge.
“You hear that?” Arozzi asked.
“Of course I hear that.” Samoa snorted a few bubbles. “Do you think it’s her?”
“You mean do I think it’s a Fluke with a reputation for sinking ships and taking on leviathan? Yes, yes I do,” Arozzi said. He looked up at the human and Stryx feet dangling in the water on either side of the raft. “They’re sitting ducks out here.”
“What’s a duck?”
Arozzi gave her a cross look. “It’s a bird that sits on the water and gets eaten.”
“Oh,” she said. “Well, Aloha is a bird and they might get eaten, so that’s apt.”
“You’re going to help her get the human to the island, aren’t you?” Arozzi asked.
Samoa surfaced again. This would be her first rescue operation and she had no clue what she was doing.
“Okay, so what’s the plan?” she asked.
“The plan is you take him on your dorsal fin and swim towards the island. Don’t dive under the water. They can’t breathe under there and they can’t hold their breath like I can,” Aloha said. “I’m going to use the raft to get aloft. Hopefully.”
Samoa’s hide tingled as she swam up to the human a little too eagerly and about knocked him away from his raft. He grasped at her dorsal fins with his small paws.
“Wow, he’s much lighter than you,” she said.
“First he calls me a soggy chicken, and now you call me fat.” Aloha shook her head. She clambered aboard the raft and spread out her wings, sending water flying off in sparkling fans, not that it did much good with the rain pelting down. “I’ll try to keep low and lead you towards a safe place on the island. Remember -”
“- don’t drown the human, okay, got it.”
Aloha flapped a couple of times. She listed to the side as the raft bounced unsteadily. Then it stopped dipping back and forth like something, or someone, had braced it from underneath.
It amazed Samoa every time Aloha took flight. It was like swimming, but through the air. It must have taken an immense amount of strength to fight against the currents of the storm, just like it took strength and skill to surf the waterspouts.
“Here we go,” Aloha said and was swept away by the wind.
Samoa sped after her, uncomfortably conscious of the need to make sure the human could get air. This would go much faster deeper down where she didn’t have to fight the waves, but then there would be no human to save if she did that.
Arozzi sped underneath her, a white streak against the dark depths of the ocean where the ruins lay.
She could tell when the water became shallow abruptly. The waves became more aggressive and whitecapped. She could see a beach with red sand. Black jagged rocks erupted from the land to their right and formed a halfmoon barrier around them. This must be the lagoon the human had washed away from.
Stars speckled her vision as her chest crashed into the sand, pushed along by a wave. The human scrambled away on his thin hind limbs. Another wave picked her up again and tossed her further inland.
Samoa heaved for breath. Everything was heavy. So heavy. She’d never felt a weight like this.
The human rushed to her side, petting her side and head. He shouted.
Aloha landed in front of her, pale feet sinking into the sand.
“Samoa! You weren’t supposed to beach yourself!”
“Sorry,” she wheezed. She winced and tried to push herself backward to no avail. “Wow. And here I was giving you flak for being fat, and here I am weighing more than a Polar.”
Aloha sheltered the human from the rain under her wing. She urged the human to do something, and must have eventually convinced him to go towards his village up in the trees where little orange lights sparkled like glowing plankton.
“This is what I was worried about!”
Samoa yelped. She tried to crane her head around to see what was going on. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Arozzi with his teeth latched onto her tail. With his superior size and pectoral fins, he tugged her back into the water.
Finally, a wave washed over her and she had enough room to maneuver out of the grip of the sand.
“You could have died,” Arozzi said.
Samoa drifted along the sandy seafloor. “Thanks.”
She poked her head out of the water and picked Aloha out on the shore. “You good here?”
“Yeah. I’m going to weather out the storm with his tribe,” Aloha assured her. “I’ll let him know you made it back out to sea.”
“Take care, soggy chicken!” Samoa bade goodbye and dove under the roiling waves.
Arozzi was waiting for her.
She stuck by his side, bumping against his flank now and again. The singing of the Fluke had crescendoed somewhere between the ruins and the island. Maybe it was Jaeger, maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps they would not have noticed the human floating on the raft, but on the off chance it was an Aqrion with a grudge, she felt better knowing that the human was safe on land with his pod.
“Hey, Arozzi,” she said.
“What’s a chicken?”
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