Survival and Curiosity, pt 1
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Samoa begins her Survivalist Career training with Arozzi.
“I can’t believe you’re going out again,” Tonga said. “And for something you already know how to do!”
“But I can learn how to do it better,” Samoa said. She looked over at the rest of their pod serenely floating in the wide open ocean. “Maybe I can learn a thing or two from this, learn how to be a better leader.”
“You’re already fine,” Tonga huffed. She pouted. “You haven’t killed us yet.”
Samoa blew a bubble from her blowhole. “Me? You’re the one that will plunge headfirst into a waterspout or a leviathan’s jaws and then think ‘mmm, maybe this wasn’t a great idea’.”
Tonga wildly flapped her flippers at her. “And that’s why you can’t leave! I’ll wind up killing myself doing something stupid!”
“Just listen to Fiji for once! I don’t know why I’m your only voice of reason,” Samoa said. She sighed and shook her head. “The moon is going to start waxing tonight, and by the time it’s full, I’ll be back.”
“Well, first the pod has to make it to the sunken city place you’re so enamored with,” Tonga said.
“You like it there, too. Lots of dumb stuff to do there. Morticia and Osha know exactly where it is and will get the pod there in one piece. Hey? You’ll be okay. You have a brain when you need it.”
Tonga hung her head.
Samoa bumped melons with her sister. She was the last one she had needed to say goodbye to and the goodbye had dragged on for longer than she had anticipated. Tonga was not a huge fan of her going away for extended periods of time, especially if the pod was going to be on the move without her at the lead. But Samoa had confidence they could take care of each other during her absence. They had done it before for several days at a time. None of them were pups. With Eartha and Zep tagging along for the journey, she doubted something would be stupid enough to bother them with the shadows of two Flukes lurking nearby.
“Safe travels, sister,” Tonga murmured.
* * * *
Arozzi met up with her somewhere above the sprawling dunes that were invisible from the surface. They cruised together over the wrinkled sandbeds in silence. Endless expanses of blue stretched in either direction, and thin ribbons of sunlight undulated across the pale seafloor. There was a lot of nothingness. Other than a few small brown and white crabs here and there that ducked down when they passed overhead, they were the only two living things making their way through this part of the ocean.
Samoa glanced at her traveling companion.
Arozzi had been around since she and her two siblings had been born. It was an odd phenomenon, seeing as their parents were part of a traveling Phin Singer pod that didn’t stray too far from the surface and Abyssals were deep water creatures who usually didn’t stray too far from their dark and twisting canyons and caves.
Yet, Arozzi had been a fixture in her life for a very long time. Especially after she and Tonga and Fiji separated from their parents and their pod at possibly too young of an age.
He had helped them learn how to navigate passages most Singers and Aqrions in general would find impossible.
He had guided her and Morticia and their at the time newfound friend Trig through their breeding rites.
He had helped Fiji shape his powerful sonar into a useful tool.
Now he was going to be the one to help her hone her survival skills. Her exploring, scavenging, gathering, and hunting skills. They had served her well enough, but they could be better.
She glanced at him again.
She was no longer the young pup that looked up to him with innocent admiration and curiosity and pestered him for stories and tips. She had grown up. Somewhat. Maybe not a lot if Arozzi himself was asked. But when she looked at him now, she looked at him with respect. He had survived many years, so many that his age was a mystery and she had no clue half of the things he had seen and been through.
And she looked at him with gratitude. Without him, she did not know how she and her siblings would have made it.
“Where are we headed?” she asked.
Arozzi didn’t answer.
Yes, she did respect him and owe him a lot of gratitude, but she thought he could still be quite the stick in the mud. With his lack of assistance, she turned her attention to her surroundings. The dunes were crawling upwards, closer and closer to the surface. More light scattered through the ripples and lit up the sand. It sparkled each time a strip of sunlight struck a grain.
Though the ground was on a steady incline, she could tell there was still plenty of room for a Fluke to swim through this particular area. At least at high tide. Another click brought back an even clearer image. Schools of fish, rocky outcrops, lush plant life. They must have been heading towards a shallow reef.
“First lesson,” Arozzi said.
“Oh, so you aren’t going to stay silent the whole trip?” Samoa asked.
Arozzi narrowed his eyes at her. “Don’t rely on someone else to tell you what’s around you.”
“What if the someone who tells me what’s around me is my brother? He can map out places like he’s been to them a hundred times, even if it’s the first time he’s been there,” she said.
Arozzi grunted. “Sonar like his is no replacement for plain and simple caution.”
“Well, I guess I’m more apt to learn that than Tonga and Fiji,” she said quietly.
A translucent fin slapped her rostrum.
“There’s a reason you’re the leader of your pod and not Tonga or Fiji or Osha or Eartha or Trig or Morticia or, lords have mercy on us, Zep,” Arozzi said.
“We’d be in trouble if Zep and Tonga were in charge,” she agreed with a grimace.
“Being born without a breath or some special little gift isn’t an end all, as you well know,” he said and began swimming forward again, slow and meandering, white scales glinting rainbows of light.
She followed at his relaxed pace. “Monte didn’t have one, either.”
“Mmm. Yes. Your father was gifted with speed and nothing else. I think that may be why your mother eventually lost interest in him,” he said.
The dunes gave way to pillars and arches of dark rocks where dazzling coral and various sea plants clung. Tall yellow-green stalks of kelp swayed with the current and fish with large white eyes darted to and fro among the wavy leaves. Crabs much smaller than the ones on the dunes crept through the crevices of the rocks, gesturing with massive claws that were painted in such bright colors, they would have attracted every predator in a twenty klik radius in the open ocean, but they fit in perfectly fine amongst the other brightly colored seagrass and sponges and fans of coral.
Silver fish with iridescent turquoise stripes swam by in ever shifting schools. They were so bold as to swim right around them. Samoa snagged and ate two of them before the school got wise and gave them a wider berth.
When she surfaced for air, she could make out a few bits of land rising out of the ocean. Her eyesight was not fantastic above the water, but it was better than Arozzi’s, and she could mostly discern what appeared to be rolling foothills covered in verdant green foliage.
She dove back under the calm waves and spiraled down a pillar of rock. Arozzi was at the base of it with his head shoved into a crevice. Delicate strands of maroon grass tickled her underbelly as she circled the pillar. Tiny shrimp with long whiskers shrunk back into holes too small for most fish to get into, never mind her.
Arozzi kicked up a cloud of sand with his hind fins. He twisted and pulled his head free with a large, brilliantly colored crab in his jaws.
He set it on a shelf on the pillar.
“The prismatic crabs are molting during this season,” he said.
It was then she realized it was just a shell and the actual crab was nowhere to be seen.
“More than ‘neat’. It’s your first test.”
She stared at Arozzi. He definitely was not going to waste any time.
“Gather up whatever shells you can find, whatever other trinkets you like to collect, and find somewhere to spend the night,” he said.
“Wait.” She squinted between him and the shell. “Gather goodies and then hunker down for the night? What’s the catch?”
Arozzi grinned, his many needle teeth shining in the late afternoon sun.
“I’m going to come steal your goodies in the middle of the night if you don’t hide them well enough.”
* * * *
To say the idea of someone coming to steal her stuff in the middle of the night had unsettled Samoa was an understatement. Being snuck up on was no fun, anyway, but knowing that she had no sister or her ever alert brother to watch her back while she slept?
She may have made a mistake coming to train with Arozzi.
The setting sun dyed the water on the surface a terrifying blood color. It filtered down through the waves, going from red to orange to purple and eventually fading into a consuming deep blue. A few of the anemones glowed with bioluminescence, beckoning phytoplankton toward them with their glowing tentacles. A group of jellyfish had drifted into the shallows throughout the afternoon and now formed a glowing pink blob near one of the open areas between two pillars and an arch.
Samoa kept her angler bulb tucked flush against her head as much as she could. Though she would probably look like another dot of light bobbing up and down in the nighttime shallows, she didn’t want Arozzi to pick her out and follow her straight to her hideout where she had stashed her goodies.
After he had given her the ominous instructions, he had slunk off and vanished. She spent the rest of her time gathering various things from around the shallows, all the while looking behind her almost every step of the way. Setting up camp with no help and with that kind of threat looming over her head had led to many failed attempts. She was sure this last one was a keeper.
At least, it was the last one she was going to find before it was pitch black outside.
She shot a wary glance around the tranquil waters around her and then slipped behind a curtain of dancing kelp and in between two rocks. A happy accident had revealed this spot to her when she had tried to build herself a little barricaded camp in the kelp disguising the entrance.
It was a tight fit. Even sideways and using her flippers to pull herself along through the narrow crevice it was arduous. Unfortunately, if Arozzi found the entrance, he would have a much easier time squeezing through the rocks and popping out into the cavern at the back, so she was counting on him not finding the entrance in the first place.
But if he did, he would have to look for her goodies. Her goodies included several molted prismatic crab shells, one empty conch, five chunks of copper, and now a knife. The knife was the most intriguing, because she could not tell exactly what it was made out of, nor how it was crafted.
She broke the surface of the water at the top of the cavern.
In some twist compared to earlier in the day, her eyesight was not as keen in the dark as Arozzi’s, but it was better than the other non-Abyssals in her pod. It took a second to locate the cubbyhole in the rock wall above her head. With a flick of her tail, she propelled herself up and tossed the knife in with the copper. How she would get them down from there, she did not know. But perhaps Arozzi would think the same thing and would not bother to look above her reach.
Perched on an algae blanketed ledge below the surface, she settled down to wait. And maybe sleep. She and Arozzi had traveled from dawn until late afternoon. The call of sleep came low and slow like a siren song.
She shook her head vigorously. No sleep! Not now.
She needed Zep or Morticia here to tell scary stories, ones that would keep her awake all night. Normally, if the pod made camp for the night in a kelp forest or in the tangled roots of the drifting isles, they would take turns resting. Trig would take the darkest hours since his eyesight was better in the dark. Zep would take the early morning since he was always up at the crack of dawn. Fiji was a light sleeper and would pretty much be on guard all night.
Except now she was alone in her tiny camp. Her only early warning system was a waterlogged branch with a shell on top of it at the entrance of the cavern. It was the most slapped together thing she had ever done, but hopefully Arozzi would knock it over if he came in.
What she would do if he came in, she was not sure.
She yawned. The last trails of light were gone.
Night had fallen.
And someone was coming to steal her goodies.
* * * *
Early morning sun blinded her as she emerged from the dark crevice. She squinted against the dazzling strips of white light as she surfaced and caught a breath of warm salty air. A school of those silver and turquoise fish parted when she plunged through them, though a few were unlucky enough to not have scrambled away faster.
She dropped low and surfed along the bottom over the white sand. A black and white ray with a sizable wingspan glided underneath her. The water was once again crystal clear and teeming with colorful life, from the schools of fish to the prismatic crabs to the vibrant corals. It truly was a beautiful morning.
If only her mood mirrored her environment.
A few passes of the shallows finally revealed Arozzi to her. He was neatly hidden amongst a porous outcropping of rocks where a couple fat eels eyed her with suspicion. Of course, she was more interested in the biggest white eel than the relatively small gray and blue ones.
Arozzi stared at her with half-lidded eyes from the shade of his temporary abode.
She glared back.
Slowly, he slunk his way out of the burrow in the rock and faced her with a puzzled look.
Samoa was the first one to speak.
“How did you get by me and my alarm system?”
Arozzi’s face fell into further confusion. “Well, I was going to say well done.”
“Why? Because it was a good try but I failed anyway? Because my so-called alarm system was really just a branch with a clam shell on top of it?” she questioned.
His rows of yellow bulbed spines flexed into an upright position and his secondary jaws parted slightly. “Because I couldn’t find you, but it seems like you lost your trinkets without my assistance.”
She blew a bubble from her blowhole. “Excuse me? I lost them by myself? I don’t think so.”
“Samoa, this doesn’t bode well for the rest of your training.”
She slapped her flippers and turned in a tight circle. “I hid them above the water! And not everything is gone, only the knife and the copper.”
“Wait.” Arozzi invaded her personal space, his blue eyes intense and narrowed. “You found a knife? What kind of knife?”
She scooted back from him. “I don’t know. It was maybe a third the length of my flipper, polished silver with a black handle.”
“Was it rusted?”
“No, it looked in good repair to me.”
Arozzi swung his head around, scanning the shallows with such a rigid caution that Samoa felt a prickle go down her spine. She glanced around, as well.
“And you said you put the knife and the ore above the surface of the water?”
“Yeah, I thought I was being clever and maybe you wouldn’t see it up there.”
“Was it an enclosed area or was there a way into it from the land?”
She started to shake her head, then stopped. “There might have been? I thought I caught a glimpse of light when I got into the cavern at first, but night fell too quickly for me to really tell if there was another way in from above.”
Arozzi descended to the seafloor, leaving barely any space between him and the sand, and proceeded to slither away. Samoa followed suit.
A cold chill washed over her as she followed Arozzi. Something had happened to the knife and the copper. She had assumed it had been Arozzi’s doing, but seeing as he had laid no claim to that sneaky move, it meant that someone, or something, had snuck up on her in the middle of the night without her knowledge.
She grimaced. That never would have happened in her pod. Fiji and Osha were too hypervigilant, and Eartha and Zep were too imposing for those kinds of close encounters. It was no small comfort that she was out in these unfamiliar waters with a much older, wiser, and well-traveled Aqrion. She was not sure what she would do by herself.
The sand underneath them turned to a slightly dark shade, black grains mixing with the white grains. Flat, gray and white speckled rays the size of her head scattered under Arozzi’s shadow. Tall stalks of kelp ranging from yellow-green to red took the place of the rock spires in the shallows behind them, and the delicate arches of rocks became massive winding bridges that were dotted with a much larger menagerie of anemones. The water also grew deeper and filtered out more sunlight. Thankfully, the glowing jellyfish she had spotted the night before had drifted this way and hung like lanterns in the dim lighting.
She startled as a ray bigger than her from wingtip to wingtip lifted off from the sand and silently flew away toward even deeper water. Arozzi started to give more space between them and the ground, probably to quit causing the rays to take flight and alerting things to their presence.
With grace born from experience, Samoa edged around a cluster of tentacles draping down from the bell of a rather large jellyfish.
Arozzi’s thin white scales reflected the pink glow in a soft, iridescent way as he curled between the larger jellyfish closer to the seafloor. Samoa opted to go over the top of them rather than try to navigate the dense forest of stinger lined tentacles. She booped several of them on their bells on her way. They bounced in slow, elegant movements.
The jellyfish started to thin out. The seafloor sloped upward again and sunlight carved slices of morning light down on them. A sky blue replaced the dark cerulean that had briefly swallowed them up along with the sun.
Samoa surfaced for air and took a peek around while she was there.
There were still rocky shores to the north, but the verdant green foliage on the land was closer. It butted up to the black rock barrier only three Fluke lengths away. Gulls floated on the water nearby, preening and leaving white feathers floating around on the small lapping waves. One that was too close for its own comfort yelled at her and flapped away. It settled by a few others a little ways away and gave her a dirty look.
She dove back under, pulling the feeling of warm sunlight on her skin down with her for as long as she could. Arozzi had pressed himself against one of the winding bridges while waiting for her.
“What? What is it?” she whispered and squeezed herself nearly on top of him against the rock bridge.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Arozzi muttered.
She inched forward until she could crane her head around the edge and look where Arozzi was looking. Some of the smaller anemones sucked in protectively when she bumped them, too focused on the open bay around the edge to notice their tiny, pinprick stings.
Arozzi’s rows of spines poked her underside as he flexed them. “I should have scouted this place better before bringing you out here.”
Samoa flashed a grin. “Why?”
“Because, you’re too curious.”
“Please, can we just take a look? Please?” she pleaded.
Arozzi opened his mouth to protest, but closed it in the same second. He sighed and shook his head.
“You’ll just sneak back over here, won’t you?” he asked.
She stared at him wide eyed.
“That’s what I thought.” He groaned and peeled away from the rock bridge. “Come along, then. Satisfy your curiosity and then we’re leaving.”
She had to restrain herself and did a rather magnificent job of not rushing ahead. Arozzi was more wary, casting glances around the water and then at the strange structure in the middle of the bay. Samoa only had eyes for the round building.
“What’re they doing here?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Arozzi mumbled. “Why do humans do anything?”
“I don’t know,” she said. She carried on with one thing on her mind. “But I want to find out.”
To be continued...
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