Firefly Fish: Ch 17

“What can I do when I get there? Is there a way to undo a mark?” I asked as water rushed past me. Holding onto his back fin, I could not be improving Saeesar’s aerodynamics, but it was easier to hold on this way and freed up his arms for propulsion.

“I don’t know. I don’t know how your talent works. The best I have are the cautions we’re taught growing up. There are a few top tiers you just don’t mess with in the Antumnos. The sea gods tend to be one of them. They’re monstrous, massive, strange, singular phenomena that can devour an entire nursery ground in one bite. Kraken fall into that line of sea gods. Most children of the Sea Gods are just offspring. Some have talents, but most tend to be the crossed offspring of average creatures. They lack intelligence and have a short lifespan because of compatibility issues.” Saeesar caught a current that sent us hurtling through the darker water.

Swarms of flashing silverfish brushed alongside us in swathes for more than a mile. A deep scent, one that left my stomach cramping, fascinated me as I watched smaller grey creatures dash in and out of the sholes.

“But those born to intelligence?” I fixated on the grey creatures, my focus drawing in until I recognized the small squids flicking in and out of the schools, hunting.

“Tend to be longer lived. It is not unheard of for a sea god and one of the Antumnos producing spawn, and they are abnormally long-lived. A human cross is infrequent in the best of times.” Saeesar’s voice turned into that of a philosophical school teacher.

“And Puca’s children?” My hands cramped with the desire to get hold of one of the squid. “You said the pack hunt. There must be more. No children have been found in a couple centuries. These are the intelligent Antumnos cross?”

Saeesar neglected to reply, twisting with the current. We passed out from the shelf and down through a series of jutting cliffs and valleys. The landscape reminded me of New Mexico. The canyons and desert drifted beneath the refraction of light and particle density.

“At least, before we lose any more food opportunities…” I alluded, taking an interest in a set of marlin following our movement.

Saeesar’s speed at getting us back to the nesting grounds slackened. “They will not be happy being singled out.”

“They are intelligent?” I sized up what could make for good bits of grilled fish steaks.

Saeesar snorted, a burst of tiny bubbles telling me he was laughing at me. “They are Antumnos. Do you not see them?”

I waited for their form to coalesce into something closer to Saeesar or Taigre’s. It wasn’t coming to me. I was hungry, and they looked like food.

Saeesar glanced back at me, an edge of worry slicking his fins. “How often do you eat?”

“Three, four times a day preferred. I’ve had maybe two meals in the last three days, and there wasn’t much on Captain’s ship before.” I desperately wanted to let go of Saeesar and take after one of the marlins. It was smaller, a bit slower than the rest of the school. Black fins with stressed white stripes curled around me, blocking out my fascination. “What?”

Saeesar’s features were that of worry, though he did not frown like a human. It was the set of his shoulders and the method by which his fingers and fins worked to redirect me back toward the shole of silverfish. “I made an error in seeing to your health, Kraken child. Let’s see to your hunting before taking you to nesting grounds.”

His tone had gone cold, and he was handling me like a china doll. Furrowing my brow, I went along with him, confused at the action. “Did I do something wrong?” I asked.

“Not necessarily wrong. You are adhering to your instincts, and sometimes they are dangerous to others. It is not bad, but it does need to be dealt with.” Saeesar fought the current back a quarter of a mile to the edge of the school.

“Are these Antumnos too?” I asked, now wary of letting go of him.

“Most are fish, easily hunted and frequently eaten,” Saeesar regarded me warily.

“Why do you still look like you then if I couldn’t see the marlin as Antumnos? If I let go of you, will I recognize you and not try to eat you?” I dragged in saltwater, tasting that pungent spice now that we were closer to the squid diverting edges of the schools.

The marlin shot into the sholes, breaking up the pattern, startling Saeesar and me. “No! Get out of here!” He yelled at the larger beasts. No matter how I looked at them, they looked like regular fish.

“Squid. Just a squid, Saeesar,” I whispered, homing in on a little grey creature jetting in our direction. Saeesar stilled under my admittance, his fins going static. Using his immense size like I did with Nuada, I launched after the slippery beast, getting my hands around the pliable thing. I had never noticed them to have a smell. Everything out of the ocean smelled of ocean. Now though, with saltwater rather than air, the creature smelled pungent, spicy, close to woody mushrooms. I glanced back to Saeesar. “It’s okay, right?”

His protection between marlin and me was a resolute shadow splitting off the school of silverfish into two distinct patterns. The larger fish were interested in him, circling close. He glanced back at me, his tail twitching in irritation. My heart sank with guilt. That type that sinks in whenever I had to realize I was different from everyone else. The creature wrapped its tentacles around my hands, desperately seeking escape. I kept my grip on the slippery thing but gentle so as not to damage it.

“No. He’s Antumnos. Hold on.” He motioned for me to wait and turned back to the marlin. “Stay out of the way if you don’t want to get eaten.” Hissing, he revealed a mouth of sharp teeth at them before nudging back my way to look over the squid I had caught.

“Is it Kraken child, like me?” I asked, frustrated with my inabilities.

“No, no, he is a member of the Nautili clans. He would very much like to not be consumed at the moment. Would you mind releasing him?” Saeesar asked carefully.

I released my grip, the grey tentacled beast shifting to put distance between us. “I would have you know I am the leader of my nesting ground in the Soft Southern Ridge!” The creature’s voice squeaked at me. Squid. It still looked like a squid.

“Are there any here that a child of Puca may hunt?” Saeesar asked.

The creature froze at the question, all of its colorful swirling spots going sallow. “Puca child?”

“I’m sorry. I-I can see some of you proper. Right now, you just look like a squid, and I’m hungry. I didn’t mean no harm for your people.” I waved off, putting Saeesar in front of me. “I’m sort of new to this whole thing.”

The marlin had stilled at this admittance. The sholes drifted, some still moving mindlessly while others had frozen at this announcement. “There are others here in this school of fish, aren’t there?” I asked Saeesar, taking account of those who moved and those who watched.

“Your human sight is interfering with your Antumnos sight because you are hungry,” Saeesar hedged as we waited for a reply from the creatures.

“I really need to eat and get going. I’ve made a mistake and need to fix it before others like me come,” I tried to explain.

“The Pack!” The call went up through the school. Silverfish and squid dashed from the area, fleeing in droves. Left behind were the mindless wanderers and the marlin. 

I flicked a glance from Saeesar to the marlin and back to the one squid identified as part of the Antumnos. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. I don’t know. I didn’t mean for that to sound like a threat.”

“They’ll help you.” The tiny squid’s tentacles flicked to the marlins, which were herding fish my way. It wasn’t the fish, though, that interested me; it was the few squids in the pack that had my focus. This time, with nothing to push against, I tried to press through the waters for one of the darting beasties. Three times I missed before one of the marlin charged, and I got a nice-sized one that I could easily share with my entire family. I returned with my catch to Saeesar and the squid waiting at the outskirts of the school. The marlin, finding its fill, circled back to us.

“This one’s edible, yes?” I presented my catch. 

The Antumnos squid recoiled at the question. “To the children of Puca, who isn’t edible?”

“I mean, I shouldn’t eat you, right?” I held my wiggling meal to my chest, waiting. If I had been on land, I would have been salivating.

“I would prefer not to be eaten or marked for death, no,” the squid replied.

“Can I eat this then?” I asked once more. “It was on your hunting grounds, I think?” I turned to Saeesar.

“Our hunting grounds are migratory, but ask them.” The squid motioned, and the largest of the marlin entered our circle.

“I’m sorry, um, is it alright with you if I eat this?” I panicked at the sword-like nose so close to me.

“They say yes.” Saeesar ducked his gratitude. 

I copied the movement. “I can’t eat all of it. Would it offend them if I ate what I could and gave them what was left? I think marlin eat squid?”

Saeesar blew a set of bubbles, and one of the marlins twisted in a summersault. “They say that is one of the most respectable deals they’ve heard from a Kraken child.”

“I mean, I’m kind of eating off their hunting grounds. Not sure if it’s a deal.” I bit into the soft spot of the mantle that led to a crunch, and the squid in my hands stopped twitching. The world situated itself in order as I dragged in the flavour, that of understory and the soft bits in bacon. I made short work of half of the mantle and internals, and a pair of tentacles before the Antumnos resolved itself, and the little squid and marlin took on resemblance more closely to that of Saeesar. Staring, I forgot about the meal to analyse the small Antumnos squid. Its mantle looked more like a long hat, and the tentacles were many long thin arms. Spirals of red lines circled around its mantle, different from its spots. Its face was closer to that of Taigre and Saeesar, however, lacking a nose entirely.

“My table manners are atrocious; forgive me.” I ducked, looking at the mess floating around me.

“You haven’t eaten me, but you were…” the little grey Antumnos creature twisted with worry as all his spots flickered.

“Siren Voice,” a female marlin whispered, coming closer. She, like the other marlin, was a long, blue creature with a single narrow fin down her back and protruding crescent moon tail. Her mouth was sharpened, her nose merging to the long point, though the length had shrunk comparably now that I saw her for what she was.

“Saeesar?” I trembled, all of my spots glowing at the analysis. The group pushed back to give me distance.

The Antumnos marlin, the female, fidgeted before shifting closer. She fluttered, her fins catching the sunlight filtering through the calm surface. I floated out of her reach, twisting to watch her dance, unsure of her motivations. Slowly I backpedalled my way toward Saeesar until I pushed into his chest. His arms encircled me as his fins came up to protect me and the other half of my meal. “He’s taken.”

“There’s been no Mate Claim, Bet-tah,” the female marlin hissed.

“He’s claimed me,” Saeesar bit back.

“There’s no proof,” the largest of the male marlin clipped back.

I stared down at my meal. I had put us in another dangerous situation. My spots glowed in my little nest, illuminating Saeesar’s features harshly. “We need to get to Taigre before the others reach him.”

The marlin stilled. “Others?” one of the smaller males asked.

“I bit someone. My siblings will be coming.” I looked up to Saeesar’s stolid features. He glared down the marlin at my admittance.

“You were not joking when you said that earlier?” The little squid creature squeaked before rocketing off to the darker depths.

“I said I would leave you with the other portion of my meal.” I glanced to the marlin, not willing to leave the safety of Saeesar’s fins.

“Take it. It’s yours, child of Puca. Siren’s Voice isn’t worth getting eaten over.” The marlin turned to join the little squid creature.

With their departure, Saeesar and I were left to ourselves. “Do you eat squid?” I asked him.

His edgy mood dissolved when the marlins were lost to the dark waters. “The little ones similar to me eat grubs and insects. The Bet-tah of the Antumnos, though, enjoys snakes and sweetwater eel. I tend to hunt saltwater eel.”

“So, no to squid?” I ventured, unsure of what to do with the carcass if I wasn’t going to consume it immediately.

“More to the point, offering food like this, it’s, well…” Saeesar trailed off, all his fins fluffing again.

“Courtship ritual?” I assumed, numb after the mishap I had almost had with the other Antumnos creatures.

“For some. From what I’ve been told, it is within my clan. Is it with your kind?” Saeesar took the offered meal, watching my reaction.

“Usually, the married couple will share honey cakes and wine as their first meal after the ceremony, but I don’t think there is one before it. I mean, guys courting their girls will usually join her parents and her for dinners, so maybe, if you think of it like that?” I ventured. “The female marlin, she tried to mate claim me, didn’t she?”

“She did,” his voice was soft, a quiet echo under the current.

“I had control of myself, right? I didn’t say yes or anything, did I?”

“No, the most you did was sing when you were eating. If not for the audience, you were…” he twisted at his inability to form the words and took a bite of the squid.

“I don’t want to lead someone on accidentally.” I studied the ragged cliffs jutting out below us.

“You’re cute when you eat.” Saeesar swallowed, refusing to meet my eyes. 

I strangled at the compliment, water refusing to go in or out of my gills. “Why did you stay the same when I couldn’t recognize the others as different?” I pressed as he downed the rest of the squid. He shrugged, licking a finger clean. The action rippled up my shoulder. I shuddered.

He turned his focus to me. “You’re singing again.”

“I’m a bit horny is what I am.” I muttered to myself. “What proof is there to mate claim? Leviathan said it could be smelled. The marlin said there was no proof. Did any of them have Mate Claim that I could see?”

“Nuada is an exception, not a rule. The Nautili, he had Mate Claim. You saw the long red mark across his mantle?” Saeesar moved to unfold me from his protection. I shifted to take hold of his back fin as we pushed into the colder depths of the Gulf waters.

“The long spiral?” I checked.

“That was his Mate Claim. Each of the Antumnos leaves behind a mark of some type. It’s dependent upon the clan claim what it looks like. To Leviathan and some of the Sea Gods, the line has a smell of the creature who imprinted.”

“Dian Cecht?” I asked after the shrimp-like creature.

“Abstains from mate claim. Has no interest in it. So she has no signs. I really can’t think of anyone you’ve met up to now who has Mate Claim sign, other than the Nautili. This has to be confusing to you.”

“It is. I think I overreacted to Nuada,” I admitted.

“Why did you take such a disliking of her?”

“Leviathan, they’re more like a snake. We leave snakes alone back home unless they’re disturbing the chickens or particularly poisonous. Cut their heads off with a shovel, so we don’t get dead. I understood that. Leviathan is a snake.

“Nuada. She has a massive ball of light hanging off her head and these massive teeth which are creepy on their own but the fact that she absorbs her mates like that. Nope. Not going there. That was too many shades of weird for me. To say the least of it, she is what nightmares are in my world. Leviathan is a snake, that’s handleable. Nuada, I’ve got nothing.”

A burst of champagne tiny bubbles brushed over Saeesar’s shoulders. He was laughing. “You didn’t like her because of her type of Mate Claim?”

“Honestly, being completely upfront here, she just rubbed me wrong. I didn’t like her tone with you when I was waking up. Everything else just set up the rest of my opinion.” I shrugged. The rush of the current pulled us deeper into the gulf, the land below us flashing past in massive swaths of rock and desert.

“Her tone?” Saeesar asked.

“Had some of those nosey little old bitties back home who’d get in everyone’s business playing matchmaker. They weren’t hard to deal with, necessarily. It was the matriarch. She ran the quilting ring with the rest. She’d get them all riled and have them break up matches that didn’t suit her taste. Couldn’t stand the woman. She couldn’t stand my family either. We were outsiders. Didn’t really fit in, and she’d make sure we knew it. Made sure everyone else knew it too. Nuada reminded me of her. Reminded me of when Anna took a fancying to a boy in class, and that crone straight up boxed both their ears and reminded him he was already pledged to someone else chosen by his father. I don’t like matchmakers,” I vented that buried frustration that had been eating me for years.

“Matchmaker? What an odd concept.” Saeesar bounced off an incoming spire and sent us hurtling into a new current system. It twisted us down into the darker waters where my eyes took their time adjusting, and my spots lit up myriads of strange darting fish.

“Common thing in Europe from what mom told me when I asked her to explain.” I ducked as flecks of algae and sandstone came loose in the current.

“Humans are strange.”


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

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. I never could quite wrap my head around discord. I know I need to, just haven’t really gotten it. Glad you’re enjoying it!

    Like

  2. OSTBear says:

    Not sure if you’re on discord or something, but feel free to hit me up any time. Loving the works on here btw.

    Like

  3. Yeah, I kinda disappoofed off Twitter because it was becoming a rancid pit after Elon bought it. Also spending the better part of 8 hours a day on social wasn’t doing my mental health a lot of good. Glad you found me! I miss friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OSTBear says:

    Hey! It’s @OSTBear from Twitter! I just realized I haven’t heard from you in forever and I went to find you and it seems like you’re gone! If you put gmail(.)com on the end of my username you can email me if you want. Hope you’re doing ok. Miss you.

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