Not the final version. Book version may vary.
A long bay stretched into the western shore of the Salenth Kingdom, a busy harbor taking in ships and supplies from all over Derantu. Breezes cooled the hot sun rays, the ocean sparkling as it reflected the blue sky. A sailing ship as long as a city block cut through the water as its sails cut the sky. The sea teemed with all manner of strange and mysterious creatures, but on the boat there bounced the strangest creature of all.
“Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish!” Top repeatedly screamed, scampering about the wooden deck. Ropak watched holding a fishing rod, waiting for Top to trip and fall into the sea.
“So you’re telling me that Top rented out this boat?” Xavier asked.
“That they did, mates.” A scalago with skin as lustrous as the sea strode to them. Her long hair trailed over her faded jacket, though it looked as crispy as fallen leaves and much of it was stuffed underneath a billowing hat. “Captain Kindra’s the name. I was skeptical at first, but the little oddball gave me an offer I’d have been daft to turn down.”
“What was that?” Ropak asked.
“I’m gonna add a fishy pizza to the menu,” Top said.
Ropak would have been as incredulous as Xavier, but Top’s Pizza had gotten popular and the month of Worrel had arrived with no sign of business slowing down. All this despite half the pizzas seeming inedible and one being a literal safety hazard.
Oh, who am I kidding? the wrallot thought. That spicy explosive pizza is actually delicious.
Top bounced onto the boat’s guard rail and cast a fishing line into the sea, staring into the water.
“I wouldn’t lean so close to the edge if I were you,” Kindra said.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Top said. “Who’s the one paying the pizza?”
Kindra shrugged. “Just a suggestion, mate.”
At the ship’s side Alden sulked. He sighed.
“Aw, don’t feel down,” Orville said, leaning close to his side. “We’re out on a boat. Cast out a rod; relax in the sun. Perhaps it could take your mind off the princess who is completely and utterly unattainable for you.”
Alden glared at Orville.
“I don’t think you’re helping, uncle,” Xavier said. “Let’s go inside, Alden.”
Orville furrowed his brow as Alden and Xavier headed below decks. He shrugged and lay back on a deck chair.
“Top, I’m going to make this clear right now,” Ropak said, casting his fishing line into the sea, “anything I catch is mine.”
“I’m renting the boat! I get all the fish!” Top said.
“You try to take my fish and you’ll get a face full of fish.”
I guess I wouldn’t know what to do with the fish anyway, though, Ropak thought. Sure, he could eat some, make puppets out of some, but he was going to have so many fish he would become sick of it, he’d run out of ideas, and after an hour what ideas he’d had vanished. Not a single bite on Ropak’s or Top’s poles.
“Top,” Ropak said, breaking the silence, “how much did you pay for this boat?”
“Two fifth, plus free pizza,” said Top.
“How many fish were you expecting to catch?”
“All the fish.”
“And how much of an increase in sales were you expecting from each fish?”
Ropak looked at Top. The ball stared at the sea with a toothy grin.
“You’re not very skilled in economics, are you?” the wrallot asked.
“Econo-plasm-what now?” Top asked.
“Never mind. I don’t know a lick of it either. Still, don’t you think this is going to be a loss if you don’t catch any fish?”
“What do you mean?”
“We haven’t caught any fish!”
“That just means there’s so many more fish left to catch!”
Ropak shook his head. “I forgot you live in your own world, Top.”
“You can come visit sometime.”
But soon Top shouted and scuttled about the rail. “Oh! I got something! I got something!” They pulled their bowed rod. With a great tug Top was yanked down into the sea.
Ropak looked at the calm ocean. “Eh, they’ll be fine.” He leaned back and laughed. “Not even strong enough to pull up some little fish.” The wrallot felt a tug on his line. “Hey, I got something.” He pulled his rod and the floor under him fell away and he slammed into a hard wet surface. Suspended in fizzy water with all sounds deeply muted, Ropak spun around.
What happened? Where am I? Fig! I got pulled into the sea, too!
The wrallot looked up at the wavering light of the sun. Below him the sea dropped into murky darkness where Top smiled and waved. Ropak’s body tensed and he covered his mouth to keep from gasping up water—from the darkness stormed forth a mountainous monster fish. With its razor-sharp teeth it reminded Ropak of Top had they a huge nose. The fish charged at Top like a torpedo, mouth wide open.
“Don’t worry,” Top said in a water-garbled voice, “I’ve got everything under control.”
The huge fish ate Top.
With a squeal—it was all he could do with his mouth shut—Ropak swam for the surface. The fish gained on him—he had to stop it. The wrallot whirled in place and kicked the monster’s tough head. It fled and Ropak resumed swimming.
The wrallot wailed and flailed—the fish turned back and rushed at him. He didn’t have the energy for another kick. The water was too heavy to push through. He was out of strength. He was out of breath. He was out of time.
A glimmering serpent rammed into the monstrous fish and Ropak screamed, gasping water into his lungs. He was drowning, but he just stared at the newcomer, longer than the tallest schalindra and with a streamlined head and a body like one long tail. His vision swam, which was more than he did. He would have fainted but he couldn’t stop staring at the serpent as it attacked the fish. Its shining green scales were the only light in his darkening vision.
The serpent circled around the big fish and squeezed until an object shot out of its mouth to the surface. The serpent hurled the fish away, which swam like a coward fleeing from a vicious beast.
The last thing Ropak saw before fainting was a pair of eyes big as his face, deep and dark and endless as if he fell into them instead of blacking out.
AND THEN HE DIED
No. Keep writing.
Ropak awoke to a blank black sky. Splintered trees surrounded him and the ground looked like it had a bad accident with a razor, but he was home. The wrallot ran through the forest, eager to see his people again. He seemed to be lost, though, the forest wasn’t usually this dark, some more light would be nice.
The trees flashed into a blazing light that cut Ropak to his core. They crackled as fire blazed through the forest, surrounding the wrallot with choking smoke. The black sky reddened as everything burned around Ropak. He tried to scream but found no voice. After a single step he fell to the ground, ash and embers flickering over him. He clenched his eyes shut from the bright blaze until a sickening splash brought back darkness as warm liquid fell over him, sticky and rusty.
Slowly the wrallot opened his eyes to find doused smoke trailing from sickly yellow slime. It was sticky, rancid, and would probably take weeks to wash out, but Ropak was glad for the fire-quenching liquid.
It’s all your fault.
Ropak froze. Who said that?
You did this.
Did what? Ropak looked for who spoke. His jaw dropped. Beyond the trees lay wrallots, the yellow slime their flowing blood. Among them lay a cappipoto and kudeso.
You killed them.
No! Ropak shook his head. He didn’t—it wasn’t—
His fellow wrallots, that wasn’t his fault!
You never should have left. You caused this.
The blood around Ropak congealed into vague shapes, sunken and shadowy eyes glaring at him.
All your fault. Murderer. Killer. You did this!
Ropak stumbled back. He tried to yell denials, apologies, but he remained voiceless. He curled up against a crumbling tree as the dark, snarling voices blamed him.
You killed them. Your hands are tainted!
It’s your fault!
Murderer! Blood on your hands!
Innocent deaths! Your fault! You did this! Never should have left!
It’s your fault! Murder by your hand! It’s your fault! It’s your fault! Murderer! Murderer!
It’s not your fault.
At a light voice like a soothing breeze Ropak opened his eyes. The monsters collapsed as the blood vanished, and the trees fell away. Water flooded over Ropak and he gasped—his punishment must have been to drown—but he found he could breathe.
Do not be afraid. Let me help you.
A slender body wide as Ropak’s head twirled around him, too long to keep track of. Its aquamarine scales glimmered like starlight. The head lowered above Ropak, flowing scales drifting back twice as long as his head. The creature nuzzled him, its cool scales belying an inner warmth.
It is not your fault. I can feel your pain, your fear, your anger. You’ve been through and done much. Do not let your troubles swallow you. Your fear got the better of you, your anger got the better of you, but fear and anger can be forgiven. Forgive yourself. It is not your fault.
Ropak stared at the serpent, mouth agape. His breath caught in his chest. He couldn’t look away from the dark, glossy pools of its eyes. He had to know who and what this beautiful creature was. He finally took a deep breath.
* * *
Pulsating pain shot through Ropak’s body, stinging pain shot through his lungs, and bright pain shot through his eyes as the dark void gave way to the painful rays of the sun.
Painful but also welcome.
“You’re alive!” A pair of scalago arms hugged Ropak. “Oh Gourd, we were so worried.” Ropak lay back on the ship’s wooden deck, Alden hugging him. He tried to speak but just coughed through his waterlogged lungs.
“All right, roll over, mate,” said Kindra. “Cough out all the water.”
Ropak coughed. Gaddfern it, how am I supposed to make a sarcastic retort like this?
“We found you–” Alden said, but Ropak kept coughing. “We found–” Ropak coughed more.
Once the wrallot stopped coughing and breathed normally Alden said, “We found you lying on the water’s surface. We saw you and Top were gone and while we were looking for you Top flew out of the water like a rocket. We found you soon after.”
“It was . . .” Ropak had no words for his vision of the slender creature.
“Man, just think if I had caught that fish,” Top said. “I could’ve made so many pizzas.”
“Guessing the bloody fish was an aklonar from your description,” said Kindra. “Tricky things to cook, if’n you even catch one of them. If you don’t soak and prepare it just right it’s no good to eat.”
“Why?” Top asked.
“The bloody things urinate through the skin.”
“I’d save a bundle on the sauce!”
“It was so beautiful,” Ropak said to end that lovely conversation. “Amazing. Wonderful.” He grabbed Alden’s shoulder. “Alden, you know the wrallot culture—we don’t believe in any deities or anything. But if I did, I would say the angels all live in the Derantu seas.”
Alden stared at Ropak. “And the angels all try to devour you?”
Ropak pushed Alden away. “No, not that thing. The thing that saved us. It was . . . It had . . . It was like . . .”
“Not much of a poet, are you, mate?” Kindra said.
“It was long and slender,” said Ropak. “Limbless but beautiful. And its eyes. They were . . .” He pushed his eyelids open wide to demonstrate.
“Terrifying?” Top asked.
Kindra laughed and slapped Ropak on the back. “Hex, I’ll bet what you saw was a darigu.”
Ropak stared at Kindra and shrugged. “Okay.”
“Ha! Not likely, mate.” Kindra smiled and shook her head. “Darigus are nothing but myths and legends. Mystical creatures from old tales by old sailors. Probably caused by cabin fever. Or, in your case, a hallucination from almost drowning.”
Ropak crossed his arms. “Why would I hallucinate an old legend I’d never heard of? You concluded my description matches this thing without me even knowing about it. Besides, something fended off that fish.”
“It was me,” Top said, flexing their rubbery, shapeless arms. “It was all me. Clearly I fended off that aklonar with my bare hands. And my bare teeth! Rawr.”
“You immediately got eaten,” said Ropak.
“You just confused me for the fish,” Top said. “It makes sense, we both have awesome teeth.”
Alden put a hand on Ropak’s shoulder. “I believe you, Ropak.” He looked to the side. “I mean, with no solid evidence I couldn’t really say one way or another, but I don’t doubt you. It doesn’t seem like something you’d make up.”
“Thanks, but I guess it doesn’t matter who believes me,” Ropak said. “As long as I know it happened.” He knew what he saw: a majestic wonder of the sea. Myth and legend? No. It was real, all right. He’d never forget it. He hoped it would never forget him.