Firefly Fish: Ch 9

Jarl wasn’t joking about the don’t drown bit. At the front steps of the boarding house, a floor down, I encountered a world turned on its head. The water level lapped three steps up. Murk and gunk drifted in the high water.

     “What is this?” I asked myself while Taigre tried to keep hold of me. His nails dug into my skin, leaving behind welts.

     “Looks like a flood,” he whispered back, his tail winding about me tightly.

     “What are you getting nervous about? I was going to take you down to the dock anyways; we just got there a lot faster,” I grouched. “Ease up on the nails. Keep digging, and you’ll find my heart of gold.”

     “This type of water tends to hurt.” He shifted, an ear flipping against mine. Sliding a glance over, I caught his grey eyes, an eerie luminescent almost white in the rising sunlight. He searched the waters, swallowing nervously.

     “All the drift and dirt turned up in it?” I guessed as my heart beat hard in my chest at my small selection of decisions.

     “The particulate. It’s not comfortable to breathe. That, and man’s construction. The metal and splintered boarding.” His tail flicked, raising the hairs on my arms. 

“You can breathe air like me. Let me get us into deeper water and we’ll see what we can do.” I drew in a breath and set one foot into the frigid water.

“You can’t breathe like me and you’re short. Deep isn’t going to be very deep,” he grumbled as I continued down the steps and out into the street, now hip high with water.

“Tell me that after I get you somewhere safe and away from other humans.” I took us along the east-west road instead of heading south directly to the docks.

“Where are you going?” He buried his chin into my shoulder. His hood kept his breath warm against me.

“A couple blocks over; there’s a creek that leads down to the beach. Owned by some well-off gent that I’ve delivered fish to for Captain a couple times. He keeps the land pristine. If the water came up this high, I can hope the trash’ll be less so over there.” I fought to not lose my footing in the roads-turned-mud. His caudal fin was proving to be difficult with its drag. “Tell me that thing is useful in deep water and not just some kind of peacock decoration.” I spat out splashed water as I tried to catch the slick surface and get some control of it.

“What is a peacock?” he asked, his colours going brilliant.

“Big pretty bird that has this massive green tail that it spreads out to attract a mate. Mom told me of one she saw at a zoo once when she and father were back in Europe.” I finally got the caudal fin pinched between fingers, my arms already busy trying to support the rest of his size.

“Oh. Yes. It is for attracting a mate. It also works very well in water, but we take pride in the size and colour of our tails. I am a peacock. I like this idea.” Taigre pressed closer, this time less so to get away from the dangerous water and more so at finding something amusing. He had turned his yellows and greens that indicated him being fascinated. “Not that it matters too much, really. You proposed anyway, so it must have been the right colour.”

I slipped, barely catching myself on a submerged cart. “Hold up. Wait. Proposed? I didn’t propose. When did this happen?”

“Last night, when you were talking to the human. You asked me if I would be your mate when you were using emotion words and not all of your words.” He shrugged.

“Mate? Mate? Like cows mate type mate? I did not proposition you!” I pushed myself away from the cart and launched into deeper water.

“Cows. These are unfamiliar to me. You’ve mentioned them before when trying to understand whales.” He continued, oblivious to my problem as we trudged into what I knew was the nice property that had the creek at the far end. The water had cleared up from debris and was less murky. The grit had settled out. “You are a Kraken child rather than a dynllyr, so maybe you did not mean it in such a long-term form as I am used to within my own clan. Were you not looking for a longer relationship when you asked?”

“I don’t remember asking at all for anything on this path of thinking.” I lost my footing. The ice water slammed into my lungs. I lost hold of Taigre, his body falling away from me. His nails bit into my chest, pulling me down into the darkness. I pushed against the force, every sense screaming for me to find the light.

My boots kept sliding on the mud and flooded grass. I kicked at them, dislodging their weight holding me down. Pulling at the water, I gasped, breaking the surface. “Taigre! Taigre! Talk to me; where are you?” I demanded, searching above the water before dragging in a deep breath and diving. Twisting, a shadow shifted around me. A form brushed against me, sending my heart racing. Knowing there was more than fish in the sea was not reassuring. I pushed for the surface once more. This time I found a pair of eyes under thick dark blue hair staring up at me. I shivered as his hand found my arm in the cold water.

“I’m right here, Kraken child. You do scream quite loudly when you are underwater, you know that, right?” Taigre ducked below the surface and popped back up with the little waves.

“I can’t yell underwater, Taigre. I can’t even breathe underwater.” Algae wrapped up under my pants legs, and sticks poked at my stomach.

“You have gills.” He swept some of the detritus aside.

“No, I don’t. None that I’ve ever seen.” I floundered for somewhere to stand. A slim, tensile strength caught me about the legs and backside, different from the algae. “Wait, what are you doing?” I slipped, falling back into the cradle of Taigre’s tail. “That’s really disorienting.”

“You have a proper mantel. You just have to actually use it.” He tapped on my chest.

“That’s my skin, Taigre. No gills there. I’m part human. I know where your gills are. I can see them.” I settled a finger under the feathering gills.

“Different structure. You’ve seen the inside of a squid, I’d assume if you’ve eaten one.” He grimaced.

“No. Someone gave me a piece after cooking it on ship. I’m not a gutter for the hold. I’ve butchered deer and lamb back home. I’ve caught trout in the lake at the bottom of the valley, but the creatures out here are different.” I pushed at his closeness.

“Your gills aren’t like mine. Yours are inside of you.”

“Those are my lungs, Taigre.”

“Do you trust me?” He clenched his jaw at the question, his colours somersaulting.

“No,” I admitted honestly.

“You can breathe.” He pulled me under.

My heart launched for my ribs, begging for escape. I fought, clawing at his skin, digging furrows into his chest. “Breathe, Marin Goranich. You are a child of the Antumnos. This is your home.” He held on, keeping me under. I could touch the surface, and yet I couldn’t escape to it. The world was turning to darkness speckled with stars. The last lights were the grey-white of his eyes and my glowing spots. “Breathe! Stop fighting it, squid spawn!”

How was I not supposed to fight it? I got hold of one of his arms. He pulled me around to control my thrashing. My head pounded, demanding oxygen. The back of my eyes throbbed and my lungs cried for air. “Stop screaming and breathe, Marin Goranich.”

Last resort. I bit into the joint of his thumb, drawing the warm iron flavour of blood. He grunted a protest, tightening down around me, and the last of my air strangled from my lungs. The next breath in burned. Close to swallowing coal. The whole inside of my skull prickled at the sensation. My lungs turned into mortar. The tips of my fingers numbed.

“Let it out. You have to breathe out too, Kraken Child. In and out.” Taigre loosened his grip. I was dying. How could he not see that? My flashing spots dimmed, and the world turned into black rings. “Come on, Kraken child. You’ve got gills inside this cavity of yours. You can’t hold the water still in it, or else you’ll die. Breathe out!” He encompassed me, pressing until there was nothing left that could be air or water. I drew in as he loosened and blew out again. A Drinker respirator, he kept the flow of water constant for several minutes as I worked through the shock and struggled with helping to pull water in and out. “Come on, I’ll take you up to the surface. You’ll need to clear your gills so your lungs will work again. You’re not physically capable of using them yet.” He sighed in disappointment.

He ushered me to a set of sandstone boulders, where I dragged myself halfway onto the shore and dealt with the next blow of fire to my chest as I spat up litres of water. He stared at me from the surface of the water, his ears shifting nervously.

I lay against the cold rock, stunned tears mixing with salt water. I wasn’t dead. I thought I was going to die. I felt like I had died. I wasn’t dead. “I have gills.”

“You do.” Taigre agreed gently, his tone having quieted.

“I didn’t die,” I whispered. I said it over and over again. Tairgre shrank under the mantra while my brain slowly shattered. “I don’t want to die.”

“I need to speak with my father’s advisor. It does no good to leave a Kraken child in the human world, but if you cannot breathe on your own in the Antumnos? There is no solution.” Taigre slunk further from me.

“Father’s advisor?” I fixated on the shift of light through the tree leaves.

“Would you wait for me here? I will bring someone who can help. You need a healer.”

“Swim. Your tail?” My thoughts fragmented.

“I’ve set charms to reduce the pain. I need someone better than myself to see to why you can’t use your gills properly.”

“I am human, Taigre.” My throat closed off at the thought of the water around me. My limbs were too sluggish, though, to pull me away from the lapping edge. I whimpered at the sensation sweeping my skin, the horror of being under the water twisting in knots inside my chest.

“You are not dead. You are Kraken.” Taigre tried to reassure.

“If you had been wrong?” I hissed in agitation. He ducked below the water at my accusation.

I drifted in and out of the light and the water. I had never had problems with swimming before now. I had never been afraid of it. Now, though. I couldn’t go back in. I couldn’t drag myself out either.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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