Peeking out of the cavern’s entrance, I had hopes of both seeing no one, and seeing someone, anyone who might be able to help me. From the dim lighting across the nesting ground, I assumed it was at least daytime hours, maybe noon. That gave me a limited time to find where the arena was without raising an alarm amongst the grounds. No one else knew I was here, other than Pursha, and I didn’t know where she had been taken off to.
I could sneak. I could bite someone and hold them hostage. I could just stride through and act like I had a chip on my shoulder. Options spread out before me in trying to find my courtship mate. Gritting my teeth, I chose a path. Carefully I snuck away from Karis’s cave and into the middle of the nesting grounds where I ditched my cover in a crevice. Slinging my pack across my back, I pulled my best Arahon impression, puffed up my chest, and made like I owned the place, but with a touch of slightly lost.
A mid-sized dynllyr, smaller than Pushra, but still larger than Saeesar was the first to notice me. “Are you supposed to be in here?”
“I was told there was an arena and a contender that I should see.” I waved to the channel above the nesting grounds.
The dynllyr deflated, shoulders sagging. “Council idiots. Can’t even give proper directions. Let alone to a Puca chi-child.” The dynllry recoiled, realizing what I was.
“Not here to eat anyone, just bored and wanted to see a bit of sport.” I shrugged. As long as he didn’t draw attention, this was going to be cake walk.
“Right. Well, that’s not something we get very often. I heard the Pack was half a day from here. I guess you got ahead?” He motioned for me to follow him.
“A bit. I had hopes of getting a better seat. Brothers and sisters can be rather annoying when you just want to enjoy a show, know what I mean?” I let the smile drip.
“Do I? Twenty-three of them, and they all have nests around me. Can’t get a word in at family dinners. I don’t even know why I try.” He hovered to let me keep up with him. My shoulder protested swimming, and the boxes of pearls and gems sat heavy on my back, keeping me tethered to the ground.
“Sounds complicated.” I tried for fine bubbles.
“Good time for you to be catching the event today, Kraken child. Karis brought back a prisoner from the Yuchatan. He went out there to find his son, got that resolved, calf’s back home, but anyways, he captured this big old fella and brought him back to have the Bet-tah go after him. Should be an awesome match. Barely saw the guy when the guards brought him through. He’s an Eagle Ray, even the Bet-tah’s got to struggle with this fella.”
I bit my tongue, willing myself through this conversation. I needed to get to Saeesar and see if the pattern I’d come up with would work. “Sounds to be an interesting match-up.”
“I can only imagine what a match-up would be like between a child of Puca and the Bet-tah; know what I mean?” The dynllyr’s bubbles were starting to irritate me.
“Oh, the thought has crossed my mind, but it wouldn’t be worth putting the arena into chaos. Don’t think the Overseer would much appreciate having a feeding session descend on his contender, right?”
“No, Karis would be angrier than a white shark missing meal time. Guess that won’t be happening. Love to see someday, though.”
We kept up this droll conversation as I hopped and jumped across crevices and boulders, following the dynllyr further through the nesting ground to what looked to be an outskirts area.
“What was this event to celebrate anyways? Just a prisoner acquisition? I heard there was something going on and to go see it, but I didn’t stick around to find out. Had to get out from my older brother’s crabbing for a bit.” I reiterated, reaching for relatable.
“We do get some seasonal events, celebrating the migrations and such, but this one’s special because Taigre came back safe after that last storm, and Karis was excited to check this match up; that’s all I know. Maybe there’s some star alignment or something. Never much cared about that. Just who gets eaten.”
“Eaten?” I tried to keep my voice from hitching.
“Well, dead more or less. Bet-tah hasn’t lost a match yet where he didn’t come out victorious. Fast little eel fang. I bet this Eagle Ray’s going to take him down a couple notches this time. I can feel it. Been getting cocky recently and let the Overseer’s calf get injured on his watch. Deserves it.” The dynllyr sneered.
My lights flashed, drawing the creature’s attention. “I’m just excited to see this now. It’ll be interesting.”
Walls of coral and rock stacked around a natural depression the better part of a mile wide helped shield the noise of the gathering crowd from the end of the nesting grounds. “This’d be it.” The dynllyr nodded toward the chaos. A shallow bowl in the middle of the large and small sprawling bodies designating a fighter’s ring.
“Thanks. Looks like it was probably better for me to come on my own, if only to not have to try to find a seat for all my siblings. Hope you get a better family dinner soon.” I knew my smile was tight, but I was struggling to keep from grimacing at the situation.
“You too.” The dynllyr left me to go join a different set of similarly coloured creatures making their way into the ring. There was no observable method to the madness. No barker or ticket collector. Then again, with no built-in economy, there was no barter or noticeable trade to be had. Having walked through the nesting grounds, some farmed algae for personal use, but not all. There were no livestock pens of a kind. I didn’t see much in the way of cooperation for gathering of supplies. What value was being gained in this blood sport? I couldn’t come up with a reason by my human-raised morals.
I held to the outside of the arena, watching, waiting. Circling it once took longer than I would have liked, but still, no move on with the match. Eventually, I settled on a tall rock outcrop near the ring to hold out hope the procession of Antumnos creatures would stop, and this event would get on with itself.
A creature, a differently coloured merperson from the children of Llyr entered the ring. A call close to that of a saxophone settled the noise. “My fellow bretheren!” The creature shouted, swirls of reds and purples bursting across its skin.
A raucous shout returned the creature’s summons.
“Are we ready for a new battle? One to beat all? The Bet-tah has held on fast to his spot yet, but will an Eagle Ray tame his dark attitude?”
The call back shook my bones, setting all my lights swirling. A couple dynllyr took notice, but returned to their entertainment.
A large merperson with a type of rubbery winglike feature that fell from his upper arms to connect back to his torso was escorted by several small dynllyr from a rock near the edge of the ring I had not initially realized was a cave. Looking down, a bubble of hope formed in my chest that what I sat on was one of these caves. An outcrop a third of the way around the ring from me instead produced Saessar and a guard of his own. Head hanging and fins limp, he didn’t look like he was aware of his surroundings.
I scrambled to my feet and ditched my messenger bag into a crevice in the mound I stood on. The announcer built up the crowd, drawing out cheers and boos for both sides. Red rings throbbed in my vision. Whatever the creature said, I had lost all interest in trying to understand this situation any more. Antomnous individuals were dissolving into regular sea creatures.
By the time I had realized the match had started, I was halfway through the crowd, and the Eagle Ray had a chunk of his wing on his left side missing. A shadow flashed past the larger creature, his cobbly features twisting in confusion and pain. Tail poised, he fought to follow the billowing black and white fins circling him.
My skin itched in watching this grotesque feat of strength. Between midway through the ring and finding my hands wrapped around Saeesar’s wrist and the Eagle Ray’s, I would never be able to say I could remember that journey. My spots had gone grey, hidden in that moment of sudden silence that descended on the ring.
“What is the meaning of this?!” A massive dynllyr from off to the side of the ring shouted. That was a voice that I would always remember. He pushed forward until he towered over us.
I barred my teeth. “You got in the way of Mate Claim.”
Saessar’s fins loosened, his wrist going slack in my grasp.
“You here with me now, Saeesar?” I glanced for his eyes, which had finally gone from blood-lust glass to cognizant.
“Mate Claim? What Mate Claim? I see no marks!” The great dynllyr bellowed, grabbing for me.
“I wouldn’t do that.” I let my lights blind everyone close to me.
“Pucah’s child.” “The Pack!” “A Kraken-child!” The roiling of bodies as creatures rushed to escape the ring rippled around us.
“You must be Karis,” I stated flatly.
“And you must be the Kraken child Taigre was telling long tales about.” The merperson regarded me with wary disdain.
“I’m the one claiming the Bet-tah. You’re the one who had a Keeper charm cast on him. So, now we’re going to have a conversation as to who is about to have an issue with who.” I tugged on the Eagle Ray’s wrist to see if he was ready to stop throwing punches. The creature settled carefully to the sandy bottom. “I won’t bite you if you don’t give me reason.” The massive black eyes staring back at me in a haunted expression blinked.
“Keeper charm?” Some creatures who had not yet found a quick avenue of escape started whispering.
“What Keeper charm? That’s against code,” Karis chuckled, brushing my words off like flecks of dust.
“Tell me how a child of Domnu has lived in these waters for well over a century then, Overseer. Well past the time he should return to his own nesting grounds, return to his own territory, take up the mantle his overseer father left behind for him.” His smell was that of pork roast glazed in maple syrup. My lights were playing up and down my arms and chest as my fixation rose with my cold anger. “Tell me here and now. Give me a reason not to mark you for death for stepping into my Mate Claim.”
The ring of watchers settled into their wallors, the only sound the echo of whales in the distance. Karis’s eyes, round in anger or fear, wandered between Saeesar and me. “You can’t just take my contender like that; you have no authority over me!”
“You think you have authority over me?” I released Saeesar’s wrist and floated up to sit on his shoulder.
“I – “
“You think you have the right to abuse my Mate?” I pushed.
“You think you have the right to hit your ex-Mate?” I hissed, launching for the creature as protests erupted around the ring at that little revelation.
Karis backed up as I gained on him until we were eye to eye.
“You see, Karis, I came to help your son. Now though, maybe I should mark you like I marked him for trying to drown me. What do you think? Do you want that hanging over your head for the rest of your life? Wondering when one of my siblings will smell you and decide to turn you into a pile of bone?” I slipped a hand around the span of one of his gill covers, flicking at the red frills to irritate him. “Say one word, and I will, Overseer.”
I finally identified the look in his eyes. Terror.
“Do I have your attention now?” I let my teeth gleam.
“Good. Sit there and shut up.” I kicked his chest and pushed off to rocket back to Saeesar. The Bet-tah caught me before I could collide with him.
“Now. To see if this idea of mine will work,” I muttered and drew down the memories of the charms from the night before.
“What are you doing, Marin?” Saeesar stared at the wheel of red and white symbols spinning in my hand, his fins going pin-straight.
“Hoping.” I encouraged the symbol into a larger wheel and layered another set of notes along the edges. “Grit your teeth.” I turned the disc and pressed it into his chest. If it hit like my Breath hit me last night, he might pass out, and I really would be depending on my bite to keep me alive with Karis so close.
A gold charm pushed out of him, like I was replacing it. He gasped in pain, and thin stripes of white crept through his pitch-black fins. Saeesar grasped my shoulder, and I knew he wasn’t going to pass out, but he was going to get close.
“Keeper charm,” whispers around the arena told me what the gold charm was that I had released from him. A sigh of relief eased out of me while I waited for Saeesar to stop trembling.
“But no one’s ever released one.” “How?” “I’ve never seen one before.” “What was that charm?” “The Overseer had a Keeper charm?” “What else has he done?” “So, the contender wasn’t here because he wanted to fight?” “Algae scum.”
Anger rippled around the arena as the tides turned on Karis.
Saeesar’s grip loosened on my shoulder. He drew in a deep breath and straightened himself out. Catching my eye, he nodded. I returned the motion and turned to the Eagle Ray. “You’ve got a chunk out of you and probably need someone to stop the bleeding. I’m going to say you can go home. That something you want?”
“You saved me from an untimely death. I am at your mercy, life bound to you who saved me, Pucah Kraken child.” His body vibrated as he bowed low.
“And I would have you return to your home waters. Is that not something you are capable of doing?”
Karis tried to interrupt, “but-“
I turned and launched for him. Biting down on his shoulder, I took a chunk out of him and dearly wished to feast, but knew this wasn’t the time. Swallowing roast flavored meat, I frowned at the dynllyr and ran the back of my hand across my lips to displace blood.
“You bit me!”
“I told you I would. I told you I would if you said one word. And you did. Now. Do you want me to continue or are you going to shut up, because either way, you’re a dead fish.”
The creatures around the arena scrambled over each other in a panic. “The Overseer’s been bit!” “Pucah Kraken!” “Get out.” “Hide!”
Karis sank to the arena floor in shock, and I returned to Saeesar and the Eagle Ray.
“You bit him?” Saeesar whispered in panic.
“Told him I would. That was how mom raised us. She said something once and told us what the repercussion would be. If we ended up doing the thing that ended up with punishment, well, that was that. We didn’t get an opportunity to push back because she had a spine of steel like that.
“Now, Eagle Ray, you going home?” I returned the conversation Karis had interrupted.
The poor creature had lost all colour he possibly could.
“If I was not life bound, I would.”
“If I said you weren’t life bound?” I pressed for this headache to end.
“But I am. You stopped him from killing me.” He pointed to Saeesar, fingers shaking.
“You would follow me, knowing the creature who tried to kill you is my mate?” I posed.
“It didn’t seem like something he wanted to be doing. If he really had a Keeper charm on him, that is.”
“Then are you insistent on following me?”
“Yes. That is what it means to be life bound.”
“What will you do?”
“Whatever it is that you ask of me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Tlanextic, Pucah Kraken child.” The shake in his hands was getting worse.
“Are you nervous of me or is it blood loss that is making you tremble so bad, Tlaxtic, Textic, Tla- help.” I stumbled over his name. I had never encountered that sort of string of consonants before.
“Tlanextic,” he said slower, “it comes from the ancient humans who used to live near my nesting ground. It means light of dawn.” His trembling slowed as he was given time to explain and realize that I wasn’t some all-powerful being.
“Tla-nex-tic,” I carefully rolled through each sound until he nodded, and a curtain of fine bubbles told me he was amused at my inabilities.
“You did just bite that dynllyr. No Antomnous being would willing say that seeing something like that didn’t fill them with dread. You. Are you cold-blooded or just pissed off?”
“Oh, pissed off. Not at you, not at too many creatures, but Karis is up there on the list, that and some creature with a giant light on the top of her head, but we’re not getting into that right now. You will follow us then, Tlanextic?”
“To the edge of the sea and to the shallows of the glacier pools, Pucah Kraken child.” He nodded.
“My name is Marin. Nice to meet you.” I held out a hand and waited. He stared at it in confusion. “Maybe that’s not what all ya’ll do, is it?”
“You don’t shake hands in greeting,” I observed.
“Is that what you do in your culture?” he asked, hesitatingly reaching forward to grasp mine.
I gripped down firmly and shook it once before letting go. “It is. Came from men showing that they were unarmed in a moment of meeting another.”
“Indeed. Now, shall I leave the dynllyr and we get out of here, or do I eat him?” I turned to watch the creature’s eyes hollow with that threat.
“I want to see home.” Saeesar wrapped himself around me to keep me from moving toward the ire of my being.
“Then we go to your home. My siblings will come after him sooner or later, and though I’m now famished, I’m not entirely comfortable yet with fully eating someone while they’re still alive.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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