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part four.


A head about the size of a Labrador Retriever’s broke the surface of the water next to Tristan, blinking excitedly in the light. Without a doubt, the head belonged to one of the strangest creatures in the ocean. Its short, beaklike muzzle tapered to a point and marked the start of a slender black stripe which ran all the way up the centre of the creature’s head. The eyes were large, green and framed by a blue-and-green frill which lightened in colour towards the tips. Small yellow spines dotted the black strip along the creature’s head.

In spite of everything, Tristan grinned.

“Hey, Morv,” he reached out with one hand so that she could sniff him eagerly. “Where’s - ”

Right on cue, another head popped up by Celidon and spewed water like a dolphin.

“Need a lift?” Thoth asked casually, like offering a marine taxi service was his day job.

The two boys exchanged mirror expressions of relief. Thoth was still having a hard time believing that he’d actually managed to find his friend in this ocean. Via eavesdropping on Arthur’s orders, he’d surmised that Tristan must have been out on a ship. Sneaking out was less easy now than it had been before his demigod status had been made public, but the guards had been kind of distracted by bigger problems. Once beyond the castle grounds, Thoth had been able to get in touch with a variety of aquatic friends and had learned from some of them that Therait had smashed up a couple of ships out to sea. He’d figured that Therait would be easier to find than Tris, and if they could find Therait, they could follow his trail backwards to the shipwreck. His ‘lift’, who had keener eyes than he did, had been the one to spot the 6-legged lump treading water at the surface.

“What kind of lift?” Tristan asked, leaning against Celidon. Thoth just grinned and ducked back under the water, making a signal below with his hands.

A split second later, the ocean erupted on either side of them. Twin fountains exploded from the surface and showered them with salty water, quickly followed by others around. Huge black backs breached the water, the dorsal fins rising above even Celidon’s head. Morveren squealed for joy and dove over a wide, majestic tail.

The orca thought that being ridden was hilarious. A couple of youngsters had to be calmed by their ever-patient mother, since their zipping about created waves which made it harder for Thoth and Tristan to tread water. They got Celidon up onto the biggest bull, since he weighed the most, and the two boys elected to sit on the mother whale. Noticing the way Tris was holding himself, Thoth sat at the front so that the prince was wedged between him and the dorsal fin.

“Can we take it slow?” He asked the mother. She blew some bubbles cooperatively, but her calves whined.

“Oh holy Poseidon,” one complained.

“What’s the point in slow?” The other agreed.

The orca pod were much better at navigating the sea than Thoth was. He let them take the reins and listened to Tristan’s summary of the day’s events, frowning. The pod rode close to the surface for them, some of the whales occasionally dipping under for the sole purpose of re-emerging and spraying water playfully all over the riders. Morveren stayed in the water with them, easily matching pace and even managing to outrun the calves in the game of tag they were playing.

When Tristan’s story petered out, they rode in silence for a couple of minutes.

“Therait caused a flood, didn’t he?” The prince said finally, leaning back against the dorsal fin. Thoth didn’t deny it. “How bad is it?”

“Uhh,” Thoth considered that for a second. “Kind of a matter of perspective, I guess. You’ll see soon.”

It couldn’t have been more than another ten minutes or so before the pod slowed to a halt. Celidon’s bull rolled over, dropping him unceremoniously into the water while the calves whistled with laughter. Morveren flipped onto her back, making the huff-huff-huff noises which indicated mirth. The mother whale gracefully lowered herself so that Thoth and Tristan could slip off more easily.

“We here?” Thoth checked with her.

“Here,” she confirmed, her eyes glittering joyfully. No animals rivalled orca for their indiscriminate glee with life - except perhaps dolphins. She blew some more bubbles. “See you later, little strange-fin.”

She directed her pod to depart, wailing their goodbyes, while Tris took hold of Celidon again and Morveren swum ecstatic circles around her fairy. As far as anyone could tell, the orca had simply dropped them in a different part of the ocean: there was no land around as far as the eye could see.

Thoth reached up with his hands, concentrating on the feeling in the pit of his stomach. Some of the water to either side of them mirrored his movements, lifting up and arching over the top of them so that they were in a kind of bubble. Focusing hard, Thoth pushed the water below them down and freezed the edges, so now their bubble was made of ice and floated on the water. Morveren, the only one left outside, cackled and swam around them in dizzying circles. Taking command of the currents, Thoth dropped the ice bubble underwater and directed it straight down.

Underwater, it was easier to see what the orca had seen. Something at the bottom of the ocean - comparatively shallow where they were - glowed directly in front of them. The further they sank, the easier it was to make out the details.

It was - incredibly - the castle. The entire castle had been drowned. Loose bits of debris hung in the water - mostly gardening equipment and furniture from the castle grounds. Two smashed halves of a wooden bench got caught up in the current Thoth had generated and trailed after them sadly. The castle itself had been protected from the water by an enormous bubble - similar to the one Thoth had erected around them, except that this one didn’t seem to be made of ice. Several people were dotted around the edge of the bubble, standing on the dry grass just outside the castle. As a single wheel which might once have belonged to a barrow drifted towards the bubble, two of the nearer people pointed at it. The wheel passed straight through the bubble easily, tearing a hole which caused a stream of water to start flowing through. One person raised her arms and used magic to block the hole, while the other turned the escaped water into a block of ice and sent it over to sit with a wall of other blocks beside the castle doors.

“Because the castle’s at the centre of the mainland, we got a decent enough warning before the flood hit,” Thoth explained for Tristan’s benefit. “Who knew bubble manipulation could be a useful power? Those guys are the bubble guards.”

Tris’ mouth twitched. “Bubble guards?”

They’d been spotted. One of the bubble guards noticed them and pointed, shouting to the others. Someone ran inside the castle. A moment later, a whole stream of guards - accompanied by the rest of the royal family - came running out.

“We should get moving,” Tris suggested. It was impossible to see the subtle movements in his father’s face from here, but he could imagine them.

Thoth obliged, but they’d barely gone a metre when he stopped, frowning. He moved the ice bubble by manipulating the water around it, but the water had suddenly gotten harder to manipulate. His own current threatened to turn against him and spiral them off into a different direction. It was all he could do to keep them in one place.

Tristan swore, looking at something over Thoth’s shoulder. He turned and felt his heart stop for a moment at the sight of the enormous, scaled body snaked across the ocean beside them, its size incomprehensible. The round, spherical eye was as big as the castle in front of them. The body was so long that it stretched off blindly into the distance. How anything of that size had managed to sneak up on them, Thoth had no idea.

Fortunately, Therait wasn’t looking at them. His huge, lilac-coloured eye glared down at the castle as if it was an annoying fly that he couldn’t wait to swat. Thoth could imagine him thinking, I thought I flooded this place?! He snorted, sending twin streams of boiling water shooting up towards the surface. Then, without warning, he shot forward with his jaws outstretched. The monster’s speed was incredible, especially given his size - Thoth had no time to react, even if he could have done anything to stop it. Each one of Therait’s pointed teeth were longer than he was.

The leviathan-dragon never made it to the bubble. He seemed to hit an invisible wall and rebounded, sending a shockwave of water backwards which rocked their ice bubble. Once Thoth had wrestled back control, he saw that Therait had regained his composure and was staring furiously at the two images which were now hovering in mid-water before the castle. One, a silvery-blue star with eight points, made his blood run-cold. The other, a golden-yellow stylised sun logo, brought a little smile to Tristan’s lips. The respective marks of Aura and Mallos.

Therait snarled silently and pushed forward. Yellow and blue sparks shot off the invisible wall as he made contact, but he couldn’t seem to break past it. That fact only appeared to make him more determined to do so. Every one of the monster’s movements caused new currents and ripples in the water, making it impossible for Thoth to control the water around them. He focused on trying to keep them steady and upright while the ice bubble jostled, slender cracks starting to appear in the thin walls.

There was a flash of yellow light and a large black cat with a thin, bony face and a slender body materialised in the middle of the ice bubble. Her blazing blue eyes took in the entire scene while the two boys processed her appearance.

“You’re not going to get through the castle bubble in this,” the cat assessed - accurately, although Thoth didn’t miss the implicit criticism of his chosen mode of transport.

“Sperantia!” Tris’ face cracked into a grin. “Is my - ”

His question was answered by another flash of yellow light, this time from the corner of Thoth’s vision. He craned his neck around to see that something - or someone - had shot a beam of yellow light at Therait from the opposite direction to the castle. Through the chaotic waters and Therait’s twisting body, it was impossible to see the perpetrator.

“Late as usual,” Sperantia sighed. “We’re going to need to swim for it, boys. I’ve cast a spell so that your breaths will last longer - approximately twenty minutes. That should be enough time to swim to the castle.”

“Swim… in this?” Thoth gritted his teeth, concentrating all of his efforts in preventing their ice bubble from being turned upside down. Another ominous crack appeared in the roof.

“I’ll keep the water calm,” she assured him. “You help your friends. Ready?”

Thoth nodded, but Tristan frowned slightly as took another look through the ice bubble towards Therait. The monster had turned in the water and was eyeing something they couldn’t see which kept shooting beams of yellow light at him. Therait flapped his frill, snorting with irritation.

“He’ll be fine,” Sperantia said, correctly identifying Tristan’s qualm. “I don’t think even your grandfather is stupid enough to try and battle Therait again single-handedly. He’ll just lead him back out to sea.”

As if to confirm her statement, the leviathan-dragon turned suddenly away from the castle. Thoth saw something small and black streak through the water and Therait took up the chase, snorting furiously. Tristan nodded. He, Thoth and Celidon took a deep breath, and Thoth released the water around them. The ocean closed in on them. Sperantia must have generated a current just for them, because they shot towards the castle without even needing to swim. They broke through the bubble well before their twenty minutes of air was up but still fell to the grassy floor gasping for breath. A dozen pairs of feet thundered around them and several pairs of hands pulled them up. Voices mingled together, shouting and crying and asking questions. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Arthur took hold of Tristan’s shoulders and pulled him into a rare hug.

To be continued.

Written by Aspelta.

    • part five. -

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