Hello there, here again with a chapter story I'm going to be working on now. It's like with my short story, playing with the Merman!Elliott headcanon, and the short story is a bit like a foretelling of what's to come here, though we go more in depth. I hope that I write stuff that's satisfying to read here, and I'm looking for any feedback that I can get! I already have the prologue and first chapter written, though I'll wait for the first chapter posting later, as I've delayed posting the prologue here for a bit. But until then, I hope you guys find the prologue interesting! The sea was beautiful today. No sightings of any predators, no pollution, it was simply heavenly. Basking in the little beams of light that came from above, the clear blue shining so wonderfully amidst the glow, Elliott was at peace. Simply floating in place, head tentacles swaying lightly with the waves, watching as big and little fish swam about. Occasionally he was greeted by a passing sardine or halibut, but for the most part, it was quiet and easy. Elliott so loved days like these, where he could hang about, watching the local fish ecology blossom and thrive. Not a care in the world, lazily swishing his fin tail to keep afloat. After all, diving for human debris was only exciting the first go about, not practically every day like his job entailed. He never could understand how a species as callous as humans could exist, to taint the waters of other living creatures solely because they didn’t live in the waters themselves. But he shrugged it off; as long as he didn’t have to meet one, he wouldn’t worry about it. Besides, it was among that grime and filth that Elliott grew a new appreciation for the natural beauty of his home. The deep, vast sea he was so proud to live in, how the light shined down from above like sweet, heavenly rain. How the shadows hid such fascinating cultures, unique creatures that one would find nowhere else. It was time like this that Elliott thanked the higher powers for being born as a merfolk, to live in the great blue known only as the sea; as his home. Elliott was jolted from his thoughts when he felt a slight bump on his back. After a startle, he turned around to see a rather panicked anchovy behind him, shivering and bolting all about the place. “Woah there, friend. What’s the matter?” Elliott click in the tongue of the merfolk, the language that all creatures of the sea understood. The anchovy simply stuttered, unable to mouth out any coherent words before it dashed off into deeper waters. Looking confused, Elliott looked around, only to notice that all the other fish seemed to disappear as well; hiding within their reef homes, terrified. Before Elliott could even manage a mental “What?,” his quandary was answered as the sight of a shark caught the corner of his eyes. Normally, sharks were rather docile creatures. Most fish couldn’t tell, as sharks we so known for this predatory and ruthless nature to them. But to the merfolk, the ones who could communicate with all creatures of the sea, their true nature was known; that they simply were merciless hunters when they hungered, but otherwise they could be as friendly as any clownfish. In fact, they were often lonely, due to their infamous status, and how fish would cower and hide whenever there was so much as talk of sharks being seen. However, Elliott could feel something… off, with this shark. It wasn’t hunger that he recognized with the aura the shark exhumed, but anger, rage. Rage was far more terrifying than any hunger a shark felt, as when a shark was angry, they didn’t care of slick, clean kills. They cared about torturous, drawn out agonies; it was only a natural response, but one that every merfolk knew to fear. With this now known to him, Elliott’s eyes grew wide and he quickly tried to maneuver to darker waters. It was too late though, as Elliott had stayed still long enough for the shark to acknowledge his presence. Soon the shark was bolting after him, mouth agape with its rows of sharp teeth at the ready. Elliott could feel it, the aura catching up to him, and terror struck him as if he was a child. Normally, merfolks would carry weapons with them, a simple trident for quick and painless kills for any who dared to threaten their lives. But Elliott was too much of a pacifist, too pained at the thought of lost life to even think about carrying such things on his normally. But this time he swore, this time he berated himself for thinking the sea’s chaotic nature would take a break and let a day of peace come. He could practically anticipate it, the feeling of those razor fangs tearing into his gilled flesh. An inevitability, as the presence of the shark became so much more intense. But still he beat his fins against the water, desperate to keep any sort of distance away from the murderous nature of an enraged shark. A creature that could be so gentle, yet so very dangerous all the same. So deep in his panic, he didn’t even realize the shark’s presence suddenly taking a stop and the distance that grew between them until Elliott had practically exhausted himself from the fast-paced swim. When his mind’s priorities was shifted from “swim for your life” to “stop and take a breather,” Elliott finally acknowledged that the shark was now a good, steady distance from him, and not approaching any close anymore. Which confused and frightened him something awful; why would a creature as powerful as a shark just suddenly stop? Looking behind him now to see if there was something else that attracted the shark’s attention, Elliott didn’t realize the net in front of him until he was already tangled up in it. A new panic now arose in the merman, as he desperately tried to thrash about to get out. Nets were by far the biggest fear of any merfolk, as nets meant only one thing; humans. Either a human left it out in a careless manner as they were prone to, or they were out hunting for a trophy. Not food, but a corpse to dry out and call a “prize.” And from the way the net tugged upward into the unforgiving sky, it made Elliott assume the worst was happening. That he had become the newest catch for the power-hungry humans. He tried so desperately to break free from the net, to get away as best as he could, but the early chase had left him so exhausted that he could barely cause a struggle. His fins were just too tied up from the netting to allow proper movement, his arms tugging at the wiring so frantically yet making no leeway into removing them. It wasn’t long before the light grew brighter and brighter, the vessel which no doubt housed a human coming into view. With one last gasp for water, Elliott’s gills were assaulted by the harsh stings of the air above as he was completely pulled from the water. Still trying to move about, his eyes so pained at the unaccustomed light, body lightly twitching as it lacked the water it so desperately needed to live. Squinting his eyes now, his vision still so very cloudy, he could make out a signal silhouette in front of him. No doubt his hunter. With one last thrash in a vain hope that perhaps that was all that was needed to break free, Elliott’s eyes closed as he accepted his fate, waiting either to dry to death or to feel something plunge deep into his chest. Instead, all he heard was a “Whoops, sorry ‘bout that, son!” as the net was lowered back into the water. It was only for a moment, that elevation to the air. But in that moment, Elliott was certain his fate was sealed. That his time was to come far too soon to the hands of humanity, to have his body be desecrated instead of becoming one with the water like the others before him. He was almost ready to accept it, to stare death in the face without fear or sadness. But as soon as he had prepared himself, his body was jolted with new life as the net lowered back to the sea. Once he was properly submerged, the human who caught him came over and cut away the bits of net Elliott was still tangled to. It took a few minutes, a few grunts and bits of reassurance, but Elliott was free. Blinking in sheer shock, he looked to his once tangled arm and moved it about, splashing a little in the water as if shocked that his arm was still even there. “There ya go son, sorry ‘bout that,” the man said, a tip of his hat as he chucked the remains of the net in his boat. “Net fishin’ is such a gamble. Get a huge amount of fish, or catch somethin’ ya don’t want. Why I typically prefer the good ol’ rod above all else.” Elliott was simply silent, body mostly submerged in the water with only his face poking out of the water now, head tentacles floating around him. Looking at the man, eyes so confused… but so very grateful at the same time. This was his first encounter with a human, and with it, he expected the worst. The tale of humanity’s cruel nature was well known amongst the merfolk, how they hunted for sport and cared only for their own self-preservation. Yet this human cut him free, brought him back to his watery home. With another blink, Elliott gave a click of his tongue in thanks, not knowing the human lacked the ability to understand, and dove back into the water. As he completely submerged himself once more, he froze the moment his eyes fell upon the shark, remembering now just moments ago he was fleeing from the angered beast. But his startled reaction turned to peace when he sensed the now calm aura the shark had as it slowly approached, eyes full of amazement at how the merman returned. “You’re… alive?” was all it bubbled out, as if it didn’t believe what was in front of it. “Yes, I’m fine. You feeling better now?” Elliott clicked out, making sure to keep his distance just in case the shark’s rage was to resurface. “Yes, I… I’m sorry for that, sea protector. I was angered by a petty thing, and I realized nearly too late. When I saw you get caught… oh, by the sea, I’ve never been more scared,” the shark bubbled, regret clear in their aura. “Indeed… humans are a creature few of us have encountered with our lives in tact. At least, not without some horrid story to accompany it. This human… seemed far different from any of those stories,” Elliott clicked, looking back at the shadow of the boat before he turned back to the shark. “I wouldn’t know, I never encountered a human before. Thankfully, the majority seem to fear us much like smaller fish do. I don’t understand why, but I won’t question our good fortune.” “Of course. Your nature is both a blessing and a curse in that way, unlike any others of the sea. While it is sad so many fear without knowing your kind… it does have benefits, no doubt,” Elliott agreed, body easing as the shark made itself apparent to be harmless now. “Now, please tell me friend, what ailed you? Perhaps I may be of assistance.” “Really, it is so juvenile of an annoyance…” the shark bubbled, shyly looking away. “I dropped a shiny thing I found deep into the abyss, far too deep for me to swim to. I was so happy to found it, only to lose it so quickly… it sent me over the edge. I’m deeply sorry, sea protector.” Elliott frowned at this, understanding the plight. Despite the ocean being his home for so long, so much of it was off limits even to his kind. The abyss was one such place, dark and cold, with creatures never to be away from the darkness. To lose an object of value was always tumultuous, as it was almost always for certain gone for good. Unless a deep diver were to brave the murky waters, but to find one was becoming increasingly rarer as the years passed. “I’m truly sorry to hear, friend. I wish I could help, but I am simply a scavenger, not a deep diver. However, if you’ll come with me, I’m sure I can find help for you somewhere in my school,” Elliott offered, giving as much pity as he could give without feeling overbearing. “No no, it’s fine, sea protector. I have troubled you enough today, and my lost item was most likely some lost human debris. There’s… bound to be more,” the shark drew out, turning itself around to swim away. “Thank you for your offer though, your kindness will not be forgotten.” “Of course, my friend,” Elliott clicked, understanding a shark was not one to change their mind, no matter the insistence. “If you change your mind however, my school will be in the area for a few weeks more. I’m bound to come back here some time during our stay, so please, do try to seek me out.” “I’ll consider it. But until then, farewell,” was all the shark bubbled out now as it swam away from the merman, tail swishing so very quickly. Elliott simply clicked out a goodbye as he watched the shark swim away, turning around himself to follow suit. As he began to swish his tail, his eyes once more caught sight of the boat, unmoved from its location. With the original threat now no longer present, a nagging curiosity tugged at his mind, eying the shape so very cautiously. He knew in the back of his head, he should just swim away, get away from the dark shadow as fast as his fins would allow. But instead, he swam once more to the silhouette, an inquisitiveness latching to him like a leech. As he drew closer, he could see a bit of purple temptation on a very obvious hook. Purple temptation was what his school called the mysterious substance that seemed to entice fish to the obvious trap, as they lacked any sort of understanding what the substance was supposed to be. Certainly, it was nothing that came from below the water, which was what tempted fish in the first place. The exotic nature, so foreign and fleeting… With another look up towards the boat, Elliott steeled himself as he swam up more until he surfaced again, face popping from the waves to catch sight of the rugged seaman, now chewing on a wooden object that produced a strange, white bubble unlike any Elliott had seen before. At the merman’s return, the human’s eyes moved to acknowledge the movement, and what Elliott could only assume was a smile appear on the man’s fuzzed features. “Well, ahoy there again, son! Still pokin’ around, eh?” the human said, taking the wooden object from his mouth. “Curious ‘bout ol’ Willy, are ya? You wouldn’t be the first,” the seaman chuckled, identifying himself with one quick sentence. “I’m not?” Elliott tried to click out, but the silence that followed even after repeated clicks clued the merman in that the human probably hadn’t any idea what he was trying to say. “I’ve caught more of your kind before. Always made sure to release them. Most usually took that as a chance to get outta dodge, but there were always a few that stuck around. Such as yourself, for one,” Willy said finally, after Elliott was done with his clicking. “At least, I hope that’s what you were asking, lad. Even after all those years, I haven’t an inkling of what those clicks mean. You merfolk certainly have a fun way of communicating, no?” Elliott let out a light click, meant for signifying a yes, but his face contorted in confusion as he remembered how the human just said he didn’t understand the clicks. “Oh dear, this may be harder than I thought…” Willy let out a little chuckle at the baffled expression the merman held. “If it helps any, a wordless way we humans give confirmation is often with headshakes. Up and down for yes, side to side for no. You understand me, son?” Elliott perked up a little at this, doing the up and down motion with his head. The fuzziness on the human’s face shifted once more, and a look of happiness was clear in his eyes. “Good, lad! Now, I know that’s not a surefire way we can talk, as yes and no can only go so far, but it’s a start, aye?” Elliott did the shaking motion again, up and down. He was thankful he understood… at least most of what the human said. Some words had him confused, sounding like bizarre chants instead of actual words, but years of gathering human debris clued him in to the simpler words humanity used. Willy put the wooden object back into his mouth then, another bubble appearing from the object as it floated up to the higher blue. “Heh, friendly fellow, huh? You don’t really hesitate with responses like others I’ve met. Don’t mind one bit, could use some good company,” the human said, reeling in his line to check his bait. “Fishin’ out in this great blue is relaxin’, but sure can get lonely. ‘Specially since us humans are rather social creatures. Can’t help but get the yearnin’ to talk.” The merman simply nodded again, understanding at least the “I’m lonely” bit. He could understand how being above the surface could be isolating, so detracted away from the rest of life the ocean held. Especially since few humans ever went this far, or at least stayed in one place for long if they were this far. As the bait was confirmed to still be on the hook, Willy casted his pole out once more, a satisfying plop sounding in the water. “Gotta say, you’re one of the tamer lookin’ merfolk I’ve ever saw. I once caught one that looked so much like an angler, pullin’ it out of the water sure gave me a fright. Why, if it weren’t for your tentacles, I’d say you’d even pass for a human!” Elliott couldn’t help but feel mildly insulted with this, what he assumed was a human “compliment.” Looking human wasn’t exactly his intent, as the merfolk prided themselves for looking like their fish brethren. His mix of octopus and lyretail was often a combination that turned many heads. Willy noted the shift in the merman’s facial expression, unsure if it was good or bad. “Sorry, did I say something wrong there, son?” Elliott nodded his head again, though he wasn’t sure how he could explain to the human why it was bad. He slowly blinked, more confusion in his face, before he finally just gave up. “Aw, sorry ‘bout that there. I forget sometimes that you merfolk aren’t usually so comfy around humans,” Willy said. “If it’s being compared to a human that did it, I didn’t mean to offend. You’re a proper merfolk, through and through. A fine species!” Elliott bubbled out a thanks with this, glad the human at least caught on. Perhaps the years of fishing clued the human in on more cues than he thought. Suddenly a change of emotions flowed through Elliott, one of panic and confusion. Not his own, but he sensed it from a nearby fish. The line the purple temptation was attached to suddenly started to pull, and a look of concentration and excitement appeared on the human’s face. “Oh, caught one! Hold on a second, son, gotta focus now,” was all Willy said as he began to reel in the line. Elliott wasn’t sure if he should go down to help his fellow fish or if he should let the human be with his catch. After all, he heard how humans caught fish for sport, not for necessity. But this human, he felt, was different. Even if he was the first human he personally ever met, he could feel a friendliness with this man, one that he felt he could trust. But perhaps it was just his optimistic nature talking, not wanting to openly condemn men much like his people before him… Before he could even react to his own thoughts, the human had already pulled the fish out of water… a small, possibly recently hatched, sardine. Elliott felt regret now, noting how young the fish was, how it barely even lived and now it was to meet its fate. “Daw, little thing, barely put up a fight. Fine specimen, but he could use some growin’,” Willy said, bringing the fish to him to unhook it. Once the fish was freed and checked over, the human stood up and leaned over, putting his hand in the water to release the small creature. The fish took this opportunity in an instant, fleeing deep into the blue before anything else could happen. Elliott looked shocked, but soon a smile graced his face at the actions of the human. It was completely unlike the stories he had heard, so kind of an action… the fisherman shook his hand as dry as he could before he rubbed it on his body, on the bizarre flesh that humans seemed to have that mismatched and bulged. “There we go, back to the sea for the little one,” Willy said, a light chuckle escaping his lips and he sat back down in his chair. He looked back over at the merman then, noting the happy look he harbored. “Glad I let that lil fella go? I personally don’t take any fish that’s smaller than average out from their home. Usually means they’re babies, and that just seems cruel,” he stated, matter-of-factly. “I sell fish for eatin’, and a little guy like that wouldn’t feed even a baby. You got to know what’s good to eat and what still has life left to it to live.” Elliott nodded in agreement at that, an action he seemed to be doing a lot now that he knew about it. It was good to see others attest to that way of thinking, that life should be evaluated and not just scoured up when hungry. It was one of the biggest reasons he was a carrion scavenger, a merman who ate already dead fish he found. Because that usually meant their life had met a natural end, that they had returned to be one with the water after having lived the life meant for them. Willy began to attach more of the purple temptation to the hook, before he stopped at a rumbling feeling in his stomach. “Oh whoops, done forgot I need to eat too,” Willy said, chuckling as he set his pole off to the side. “I’d forget my own head to the joys of fishin’ if it wasn’t attached to my shoulders.” Elliott didn’t quite understand that comparison, as he never met any creature with a head that wasn’t attached like that. But his thoughts shifted as he watched the human and caught a whiff of something… rather wonderful smelling. The source of the smell soon was made apparent as the human pulled out a white, square thing filled with an even whiter substance from a clear object that he could recognize are being to occasional litter he found at the surface or bottom. He always wondered what the bizarre object was, but now he could see it seemed to be some sort of carrying device. With the square object removed, the litter piece was scrunched up and put gingerly to the side of the human, and a bite was taken. It was something edible, apparently, despite the bizarre and rather amorphous shape it held. Nothing like a fish or algae. With a happy smile, Willy swallowed his bite before looking back at the merman. “Oh, whoops. How ‘bout I share and not just hog this all for myself, aye?” He said, taking the square thing and easily pulling it apart. With this, Willy stood up once more, leaning down and holding the piece of square out towards the merman. Elliott was caught off guard with the generosity, looking blankly at the object before raising himself a little more from the water to grab it. He wasn’t too terribly hungry, but he assumed it would’ve been rude to deny the offering. The object felt weird to his touch, so spongy and dry on the outside, yet when he touched the brighter goo within, it was mushy and wet. Bringing the object to his nose, he gave it a sniff, and detected an aroma of fish in it, masked by something he never smelt before, something he couldn’t describe. The fish’s identity was confusing, but he think it smelt most like a tuna. At the very least, he couldn’t smell anything immediately dangerous, but who knew what substances humanity had that he never experienced yet could kill him in an instant. He hoped this wasn’t some sort of underlying trick, looking back at the human who took yet another bite. With one last sniff, Elliott opened his mouth, revealing the razor teeth within and took a bite himself. Instantly his tongue tasted something wondrous, something that never graced his tongue before. It was savory, tasty, and combined so wonderfully with what was definitely the unmistakable taste of tuna. His slow chews soon became frenzied, amazed at the taste with eyes glowing in amazement, and sloppily taking another bite into the soft object. Willy noted how the merman devoured the bit of food he was given, smiling all the while as he took another bite himself. “Tasty, huh? I do so love a good tuna sandwich, glad to see the sentiment is the same!” It wasn’t long before the entire bit of sandwich was devoured, little pieces floating all around Elliott from what fell from his bites. Quickly he picked up what was left and plopped it in his mouth, the salt water seeming only to add to the taste. With a lick of his lips, he let out a click of thanks, smiling as he sunk back into the water to his face once more. The fisherman wasn’t like the merman with his food, taking slow bites to savor the taste. It was a full few minutes later that the human finished, brushing his hand free of crumbs as he went to get his pole again. “Alright, back to the good ol’ bait and tackle now,” was all he said, making sure the hook was attached and loaded before tossing out the line again. As time passed, Elliott began to learn various things from the fisherman. He learned that the fisherman came from the land not too far from the spot they were in, a place called Pelican Town. What a town was, he wasn’t certain, but he figured it wasn’t too unlike his schools. He learned the human had been fishing for many years, growing to love the sea more than the land and spending more time amidst the waves of blue than the fields of green the land held. He learned of the horrors known as storms, how the high blue—or sky, as the human called it—would turn grey and foreboding, releasing anger down upon the land. How the sea became tumultuous in these times at the surface, waves reach heights that could devour even the biggest of human vessels. He learned how the human once was, as the term was called, shipwrecked, on an island off the coast for almost a month, surviving only with his fishing skills and water that came from the high blue; rain, as the human said. Before he knew it, the high blue’s tone shifted to an orange not unlike Elliott’s own gills, signifying the time was coming close to dark. “Oh, gettin’ late, isn’t it?” Willy commented on, noting the beauty of the giant yellow orb sinking below the ocean. “Well, I best call it a night then. Wanna get up early if I’m to catch some octopus. Thanks for your company, lad, it was lovely to chat with someone… even if they couldn’t really talk back.” Elliott nodded once more, eyes a little sad at the departure. The stories the human told were so interesting, he wished he could pull the big yellow orb back up so he would tell more. But alas, the orb was always out of reach, no matter how far he swam. With a final farewell, Willy stood up and disappeared into the vessel, leaving Elliott to his own wandering mind. By the time Elliott finally returned to his school, darkness had fallen over the caravans, the bioluminescent glow of the plankton they kept being his only source of light to travel by. The night watch had stopped him briefly, demanding to know his identity, but once he swam forth to the light of their posts, they recognized immediately who he was and let him pass. After all, Elliott was known in his school for his completely bizarre appearance, unlike any others they had seen among all their years of travel. Even his siblings didn’t look an inkling like him. It took some maneuvering to locate his family’s position, but soon he was reunited, being greeted by one of his sisters; a craftsmaid with the untamed beauty of an emperor angel fish. “Hail, scavenger,” she clicked, swimming out of her brother’s way to join him at his side. “Hail, craftsmaid,” Elliott clicked back, careful not to bump into anything. “Deeply sorry it took me so long to return. The sea was unkind with its bounty today, I could only locate a pittance of shell. This area, while beautiful, does not seem fortuitous to us scavengers.” “Indeed, the other scavengers reported much of the same. The shells of the most remarkable beauty were homes to other creatures, and what was free of life was often broken or too small to be useful in crafts. It seems us craftsmaids will have to perform other duties during our stay here,” Elliott’s sister clicked, keeping close to her brother. “Unfortunately, there have been reports of much human debris in this area, so it seems we will be busy with that kind of work this it appears…” Elliott frowned at this, he never really liked hearing about the pollution they ran into. The sea was his beloved home, to hear it be tainted with objects from above was never anything his school wanted to hear. But it was inevitable, as wherever humans resided, the debris was sure to follow. “The area I explored seemed clear, thankfully. I am happy to report that the fish are thriving most wonderfully.” “Well, that’s good at least. But sadly, not many can say the same. The debris seems especially bad in one area, close to where the freshwater and sea meet. Many items called “Joja.” It’s simply deplorable, the amount of trash that was found,” the craftsmaid clicked, a mixture of sadness and anger in her tone. “Joja… wherever we go, that word seems to follow. I do not know what this Joja is, but I’ve come to hate it above all else,” Elliott clicked out, brow furrowing in frustration. “Indeed, and our brethren of the freshwaters report much of the same. No matter where, Joja seems to not be far. It is most disgusting…” Elliott’s sister paused for a moment, before grabbing her brother’s arm to stop his movement forward. “Oh right, before I forget, our deep diver was looking for you. He would not tell me what for, but he said it was important he see you as soon as he could.” Elliott fell silent at this, understanding she meant their father. He began to nod, the new action he learned today, before he stopped himself and instead clicked with an “I understand. I shall go seek him now.” “Good. You do know how he hates to wait. I shall part ways here then, I will see you for feasting in a few moments. Travel safe, scavenger,” Elliott’s sister clicked, releasing her brother’s arm from her grip. “Travel safe, craftsmaid,” he clicked back, turning himself around to swim the general direction of where the deep diver was most often located. As was per usual, the deep diver was in the area Elliott expected; away from the rest of the family, preparing a plan to dive into the abyss soon for any too deep debris. As Elliott swam towards his father, the merman in question looked up, and his expression went from blank seriousness to a quiet rage. “Hail, scavenger,” he clicked, slow and deliberately, accentuating a contained anger. Elliott stopped in place as his father greeted him. He swore to himself, seeing his father in yet another of his moods. He always presented himself in such a manner, no silliness or joy. Just a cold, serious demeanor hiding a boiling rage. “Hail, deep diver,” Elliott clicked out in response, “The craftsmaid informed me you wished to see me. What do you wish of me?” The deep diver soon closed the gap between the two merfolk, and looked squarely into Elliott’s eye. “A shark came. Said it almost vicerated you. But instead, it saw you caught by a human, its instrument of torture trapping you. You then claimed to the shark that the human freed you; pray tell, why lie in such a grievous manner?” Elliott blinked slowly, not sure how to handle the accusation as it indeed had been the truth. He wasn’t expecting the shark to have sought out his school this soon, especially not without locating him first, and he certainly wasn’t expecting to be accused of lying with something like that. “Deep diver, I know it does not sound plausible, but please believe me when I say it was true-” “That, however, is not why I called for you. What I called you for is what I heard next; as the shark left, it turned around to see you once more interacting with said human. As it put it, it seemed you were tempting fate,” the deep diver’s look turned gravely serious at the next series of clicks. “Scavenger, you were lucky it was I who ran into this shark, and no one else. Had it bubbled its words to anyone else, no doubt the school leader would’ve found out. And had the school leader found out… You know what would’ve happened.” “I… yes, deep diver, I do,” Elliott clicked, weakly and so very softly. “I would not be here to be scolded.” “Indeed. So, knowing this, why would you risk your place in the school to interact with this human?” the deep diver clicked, arms crossing over one another. “I… do not know, deep diver. I have no excuse,” Elliott said, hanging his head in shame at his caught actions. He actually did know why he stayed, what determined his interaction with the creature of land. But he knew if he were to tell the truth, the scolding would take a most grievous turn. The deep diver clicked out in disapproval at the answer, turning around and swimming back to his original location. “You have too much of the outcast in you… it frightens me, scavenger. I do not want you to meet the same fate as she did.” Elliott simply fell quiet at this, knowing immediately who he met; his dear mother. While he and his surviving siblings were still within eggs, she had been banished from the school, on grounds of being tainted and too dangerous. He couldn’t remember much of her, not even her appearance, but he did remember one thing… how she called him her dear Elliott, her precious son she would love forever. Somehow, even as the years passed by, he remembered those words, the bizarre titles to describe him. Ones he never did find the meaning to… and ones he dared not utter around his school. “You are important to the school, scavenger. No one can deny it, but your behavior is most frowned upon. How you refuse to heed our words over humanity, how you keep some of their debris as if it were worth something… were you anyone else, you would not be floating here still. Not for as long as you have,” the deep diver clicked, not even caring to face his son now. “Yes, deep diver, I understand-” Elliott started, but once more was interrupted. “No, I do not think you do. If you did, you would’ve forsaken this way of acting far before any of this would have happened. You wouldn’t challenge our stories, you wouldn’t keep this taint among us… yet you do,” the deep diver’s clicks became full of rage now, but still he didn’t face forward. “Know that I do this not to spite you, scavenger, but because I worry for you. You are young, barely matured. Being banished from the school, you would not survive long.” “I… yes, deep diver, I’m sorry,” Elliott clicked out, eyes now darting to the side in shame. “I won’t do it again.” “I need more than just words, scavenger. I need to see actions, I need to see change. Words mean nothing if everything remains the same.” “I understand. I will change, deep diver. I will not shame our school’s tradition…” Elliott clicked, trying his best to mask his sadness. After a few moments of silence, the deep diver turned around to stare his son in the eyes. “I hope so, scavenger. Because if I hear this happen again, I will have no choice but to report it. Please… do not make that come to fruition.” “I won’t, deep diver. I swear,” Elliott clicked out, more confidence in his voice despite his lack of it thereof. “Good. Now, please, let me get back to my planning. That is all I wished to speak of,” the deep diver clicked, once more turning away from his child. “Of course. Travel safe, deep diver,” Elliott clicked, about to take his leave. “Travel safe, scavenger,” the deep diver clicked back, before pausing and clicking once more to his son. “Some things are kept forbidden for good reason… remember that.” Elliott simply nodded, before swearing at himself and instead clicking out an understanding as he left. Thank the sea his father was turned away so as to not see that… When Elliott awoke the next day, he could tell the day would be one full of trouble. No light beamed down to greet him, no beautiful blue could be seen from above, and the waves grew to sizes most concerning; so big that even underneath them one was pushed by the forces. It was days like this that Elliott wished he could stay in the school, relax as the world above toiled in a chaotic mess. But unfortunately, days of rest were few and far between in his school, and today he was to be sent with a small group for debris collecting. The swim to the designated area was challenging, to say the least. The water’s temperature was far hotter than it normally was, causing Elliott to feel overwhelmed quite often and in need of a pause to go to higher waters to cool off. The waters swirled in the most confusing manner, disorienting Elliott far more than he liked. But eventually, his small group of fellow scavengers made it to the location; a good few miles away from the school, where the land could be seen from the distance if one were to breach. As they arrived, the group noted a mysterious black shape above the waters, swaying with the waves. Assuming it to be a human vessel, one scavenger clicked out a swear, letting out a rude gesture before beginning their duties. The other simply kept their distance, swimming down to the bottom to locate any taint. Elliott, meanwhile, paused to look at it, wondering if that was the same human vessel he had seen just yesterday. The area was about right, and the size and shape seem familiar to him… “Scavenger, get to work, please!” the angry scavenger clicked, looking towards Elliott with an annoyance. “I’ve dealt with humans before, we don’t need to worry as long as we stay our distance. So any concerns you have can be put to rest until we’re done.” “Oh um… right. My apologies, scavenger,” Elliott clicked back, not caring to admit his pause of thought was more out of wonderment than worry. Soon he met up with his fellow scavengers, combing the floor for any human taint they could find. A secondary goal was also to locate shells for mermaid pendants, but for the most part, the group was assigned the duties of cleaning up human waste. Objects of beauty were hard to find among debris, after all. And indeed, this location was full of it. Blue cylinders that blended with the water, smudged writings on bizarre, soft wood, circles that seemed to have trapped a poor soul and left a corpse in its hold. The sight was absolutely disgusting, but it was to be expected this close to land. As Elliott picked up one of the blue cylinders, he noted the cold touch the object had and the writing that stuck out even with the water. “Joja Cola.” “More of this “Joja,” it seems…” Elliott clicked, sighing as he took the cylinder and placed it in his holder. “Everywhere we go, we find these things. Mixed with the water, sometimes producing a most foul liquid as well.” “I wouldn’t be surprised if “Joja” is some cult humans worshiped,” the more distant scavenger clicked out in response. “I’ve heard tales that humans often leave behind signs of their false rulers, hoping to lure others to their strange faiths.” “Bah, humans. Their stupidity knows no end,” the bitter scavenger clicked, flinching as he lifted one blue cylinder that leaked out a pungent foam. “How they could think taint like this would make us consider joining their foolish ranks.” Elliott was simply silent, preferring not to join in to the derogatory nature of the conversation. He had always been raised to be wary of humans, to loathe how they contaminated what they didn’t care to keep. But yet, he could never find himself fearful of them, he could never force himself to feel a hatred like the others of his school did. Something about humanity interested him, something he felt his school was not keen on… and something he wished to discover one day. And he had the feeling this “Joja” may have been a clue to discovering that hidden detail. As he went to pick up a new cylinder, the waters began to grow chaotic once more, causing Elliott to lose his location as he was swept away from his small group. Clicking out a swear, he tried to steady himself, but to no avail. The waters simply continued to pull him away, his fins being assaulted by the force of water to prevent proper movement. The other scavengers were not immune to this disruption either. The angry one was swept away, towards the other direction, while the quiet one tried their best to stay low to the ground for some form of gripping. As the group was separated, Elliott couldn’t help but feel a panic well up in him at his utterly powerless position. And the panic only grew when he swore, he could hear the muffled sounds of warning clicks, before it abruptly went quiet. Elliott’s eyes bulged when in the moving water, he could make out a long, slender shape, and sense an aura of confusion and anger. The merman now began to stop resisting the waters, letting it carry him off as his worry was justify, the unmistakable taste of blood filling the water near him. “Oh, by the sea, not now!” Elliott thought to himself, now trying to locate the source of the blood so as to begin moving the other way. It seemed to have been coming from below, not too far from where the quiet scavenger had positioned themself… Before he could react, something hard bumped into Elliott, causing him to go off to the side. Trying to reorient himself, he squinted his eyes so as to try and see better and a pang of fear shot through him as if he had been bitten. His eyes caught sight of the assailant, a barracuda with blood fresh on its fangs and meshed with its body. One of the most feared predators of the sea, and for very good reason. Barracudas weren’t like sharks. They natural nature was that of hunger, cruelty, and bloodlust. They often hunted for boredom’s sake, and their anger could not be sated until there was at least a couple of fish dead. Their ruthless nature was the only thing a merman truly feared, as even the most well trained fighter often couldn’t leave without blood being lost. And unfortunately, Elliott’s pacifism condemned him to a fate most severe. In a split second, the long body of the barracuda shot out towards the merman, teeth bared as it darted towards the smell of fresh meat. Elliott only just barely managed to dodge, feeling the fangs scrape against his gilled flesh just before they could close in. Elliott let out warning clicks himself, both to signal to his fellow scavengers of the danger and to try and intimidate the large fish. The fish, however, didn’t even let Elliott finish the warning before it darted again, aiming low so as to grab the merman’s tail. Again, Elliott managed to dodge almost out of sheer luck. The waves seemed to toss him about in his favor for the time, moving him away from the barracuda. The barracuda, meanwhile, was gradually getting more disorientated, swaying in a most confused manner as the waters made it lose sense of direction. In the moment of confusion, Elliott once more let out more warning clicks, threatening the barracuda with violence back if he had to. As the waters became more and more hectic, a distant splash could be heard, the sound waves coming forth from close to the surface. Despite better judgement, Elliott’s head wandered to where he heard the noise, to see that the black shape from earlier was now partially submerged, and a form seemed to be gripping to it in desperation. And in the corner of his eye, he could see another slender shape begin to swim towards the thrashing form that was desperate to keep afloat. Elliott couldn’t see who or what this endangered creature was, but given the speedy travel of no doubtedly another barracuda, it had to be something living. Furrowing his brow, Elliott forgot his own assailant as he did his best to power through the tossing waters. He wasted no time, using his arms and even tentacles to help propel him forward that much faster. Soon he could see more of the mysterious creature; red flesh that seemed to bulge, and a wooden object floating not too far away. The sea seemed to favor him, despite the horrid nature it held today. It propelled him forward with enough force to make it to the creature before the barracuda, but the waves were so much more dangerous as he drew closer to the surface. Tossing and turning, it tore the creature away from what it held on to, dragging it out towards open water… towards the maw of the hungry barracuda. Deciding he had to react fast, Elliott bared his own fangs and darted straight towards the fish, arms outstretched as he grabbed. In an instant, his teeth sunk into the flesh of the creature, and an aura of pain could be felt as the creature suddenly panicked. The taste of blood filled his mouth, so much saltier than the water ever could be, as soon a new pain went through him as the barracuda likewise bit back, getting the edge of his tail. Not letting the pain deter him, Elliott’s head tentacles began to wrap around the area it could reach, making his teeth sink in deeper. The mixed pains of his own and the aura he sensed would’ve been enough to knock the wind out of anyone’s sails, but still Elliott kept strong, moving his head to tear a chunk of flesh from the barracuda. With this removed, he could feel the pressure release from his tail, and the barracuda began to back off as a stream of blood followed behind it. To save face, the barracuda finally fled, missing a fin and a good chunk off its body. Doing his best to spit out the taste of blood in his mouth, Elliott fished out the chunk from his mouth and tossed it too the side, the meat far too lean for his taste to consider eating it. Plus, the pain and the pressing matter of someone he thought was the human he befriended just yesterday being in danger was far more worth his concern than swallowing his bite. Turning himself around as best as he could with a damaged fin, Elliott took notice that the form was now fairly limp, just barely thrashing to keep itself afloat. A new wave of determination flowed through him as he endured the pain, pushing himself forward so as to breach the water finally. The waves above were of a chaos Elliott thought couldn’t possibly get worse, throwing him about and making him have to dive underwater again to get his bearings. But as he saw the figure grow more and more still, with a grunt, Elliott pushed himself out once more and swam to the barely conscious figure. The rain was heavy and harsh, pounding down on Elliott with a force. The sky was nearly black in color, no trace of the high blue could be seen. And the figure was undoubtedly the same human Elliott met; Willy, as he called himself. His hat was gone, probably having washed far away in the chaos, but the bizarre fuzz plastered on his face that was barely kept above identified the human to the merman. Swimming towards his friend, Elliott flinched as a pang of pain coursed through his tail, but he told himself he would worry about that when both were in safer positions. They were both still in danger, if not from barracudas, then certainly from the sea. As the merman finally was in touching distance of the human, Elliott reached his arm around the human’s waist and helped him keep his head afloat, gasps and coughs sounding out from the weak form. Elliott let out a click of concern, seeing if the human was responsive, but all that came from the body was grunts and wheezes. Willy was barely there, only slightly aware that there was someone near him, someone keeping him afloat. A look of concern etched onto Elliott’s features, unsure as to what to do… until it occurred to him that humans needed to be on land. He knew then what he had to do. With a clench of his teeth, Elliott began to force his body forward, to the distant land he could see in between the flashes of light and resounding booms.