26 Dec

It felt as if my lungs were being ripped to shreds. All of the water evacuated them at once, and air rushed in to fill its place. 

I couldn’t stop coughing. I was cold, wet, and resting on top of something equally cold and wet. I felt myself start to slip off, so I clung on tighter, trying to calm down.

“Are you alright?” A man’s voice called out. 

My eyes darted about the scene, trying to place the source.

Right in front of me floated the fishman, the glow from the bold wave symbol on his chest just starting to fade. 

“Wh… What…” I said groggily. 

“I am so deeply sorry,” he started. 

“I didn’t intend to lead that serpent to you, nor to wreck that floating thing you were on.”
“My raft…?” I asked. I became very aware of what I was resting on - It was the mast of the raft. The sun cloth was even still attached, bobbing uselessly in the waves. My heart sank.
“It also seems that I may have caused you harm unintentionally- I pushed you out of the path of the serpent, but you lost consciousness. It took me a minute to figure out, but you aren’t able to breathe underwater, are you?” He asked inquisitively.
“No, I can’t.” 

What a strange question. 

“How am I still alive?” 

“I took a gamble and pulled the water out of your lungs. I hope you don’t mind, I didn’t want to see you die. My apologies…” 

“You saved my life,” I said with a huff. “Quit apologizing. Thank you,” I said earnestly. 

The man smiled at me. It was a strange smile. The man had sharp, jagged teeth, and they were all on full display. It was hard to pinpoint the exact emotion behind his large dark eyes. I quietly thanked the heavens that he was an ally and not a foe.

“That’s an interesting mark you have on your arm,” he told me. “You can manifest fire, too.”

“How observant of you.”

“As you can see, I also have a mark. I can control water,” he explained.

“You met the rainbow hair lady too?” I asked.

“Before I met you I really thought I was coming down with tide sickness. Seemed much more realistic that I’d hallucinated it all than for it to be real.”

“Tell me about it.” I chuckled.

“Where do we go from here?” I asked after a moment. “Before you showed up, I was chasing after some bird guys, but since I don’t have my raft anymore…” 

“I-I could give you a lift,” The man said. “I owe you that much for wrecking your raft. I’m a very strong swimmer. And the rainbow woman said that should I find an ally, I should stick with them.”

I smiled again. “Honestly, I would be royally screwed if you weren’t here right now. But I think if I’m to keep going where I was headed up to the north, I’m going to need a new raft. Better yet, a boat.”

“Do you mean those structures that surface dwellers build to float on the surface of the water?” He asked. 

I nodded. 

“I’ve seen those before. Big ones, too. But they aren’t exactly north, they’d be more uhh,” he spun around, dipping below the surface. When he came back up, he had a stone tablet in his hands. “They’d be west south west of here. A peoples who dwell at the mouth of a big river.” 

“Sounds like our best option,” I agreed. “Lead the way, uhhh…”
“Rak-Li, prince of the Psari, at your service.”

“I’m Aku. Good to meet you.”

Rak-Li offered his back to me, and I hopped on. Soon, we were off, heading very swiftly towards our destination- the people at the mouth of the river. 

“You don’t look so much like a Psari,” Rak-Li commented. 

“That’s because I’m a human. I live on land, and can tread on the water, but I can’t be under the water for very long. I have to hold my breath.”
“Ah, yes. I didn’t see any gills on you. Er, do all of your kind, the humans, have strange markings as well?”
“What do you mean?” 

“Well, the area around your eye is a darker hue than the rest of your face, and only part of your lip is bright red-”
“Ahh nono, not all of us look like that. I just came from a fight.” 

“Oh, I see.”

I sighed loudly. “We’re probably going to get into a lot more fights from now on,” I mumbled. 

“At least neither of us will have to fight alone.” Rak-Li looked back at me with his signature toothy grin. 

“You know, I’ve only heard of fish-people, or rather the Psari, as you call yourself, in children’s tales, things my people would tell to naughty children,” I admitted. “I never would have guessed that people like you actually exist.”

“Oh, I love tales! What did your people say about us?”

“The village elders would warn us starting from a very young age to not swim outside of the boundaries of our island’s reefs, because if we did, a fish-person would grab us by the feet and drag us to the bottom of the ocean. They’d grind up the body of their victim so finely that all that remained were shattered pieces of bones. And every single white seashell that you’d find on the beach was actually one of those bone fragments from a little boy or girl who swam out too far.” I felt very melancholic telling that tale, knowing that I was the last person alive left to tell it. 

“Well… That’s not very realistic,” Rak-Li said, sounding taken aback. “My people are vegetarian, mostly. And I’m surprised that a tale of us actually exists in your culture. Very few Psari ever venture outside the bounds of our reefs.”

“I dunno. Maybe it was made up,” I said with a sigh. “Guess I’ll mark that down as an unsolvable mystery. It’s not like I can ask anyone about it now…”

“Well, maybe once we get you your boat, we can return and ask one of the elders on your island. Surely they would know, right?”

I looked away. The wind through the waves and my hair filled the heavy silence I let fall between us. 


“You want to know why my face is so beat up?” I asked him back. 

“My village was raided by humans that could fly. They burned it to the ground, and killed everyone. Even the kids.”

Rak-Li slowed his pace to a stop, treading water as he listened. 

“I wasn’t there at the time. I-I hadn’t been a part of the village in years. Not since…” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. “I was too late. That woman only showed up to help me after the damage was done. She gave me the power of inferno… and the men with wings came back. I only barely escaped that one with my life…”

“I cannot possibly begin to imagine what you’re going through, Aku. That's an unfathomable loss.”

“Is it though? Really? Because they treated me like an outcast. They didn’t deserve to die, but I feel I owe them nothing.”

Rak-Li looked at me sympathetically. I looked away, feeling nothing but frustration.

“Why should I have to be the one to avenge them?!” I asked. 

“Aku, it’s because you’re the only one left.”

“Think about it this way. What they did to your island? It will not be an isolated incident. The rainbow woman told me that unless someone rose to stop them, they will not stop until the entire planet is a frozen wasteland. Someone’s going to have to keep what happened to you from happening to other families, right…?” 

Rak-Li’s gentle, eloquently spoken words stirred something deep within me, even greater than the persuasion the rainbow woman had given him. 

No one should have to go through what I had. Or even worse. Out there, he knew there was now other people, people who cared deeply for each other. People who would feel the devastation of loss a million times worse.

No one deserved that.

“The rainbow woman was right to make our paths intertwine,” I said quietly, after he’d begun moving again. 


“You have what it takes to be the world’s protector. In here.” I put my fist to my chest, over where my heart was. “And I’d be incredibly stupid to make you do it alone.”

Rak-Li grinned. “That’s what I wanted to hear. I’ve got your back, Aku.”
“And I’ve got yours.”

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