reides anthology!


reides is my original dungeons & dragons character! you can read more about him here on this website, or here on our campaign wiki!

throughout our campaign, i've written some narratives focused on reides. these either deal with pre-campaign events or give some extra insight into how reides has experienced campaign events. so far, there are 7 short stories! reides is a character who is very dear to me, so i hope that you enjoy reading from his point of view!


01. your beginning.


i. 

you were born during a storm.

it’s said that, on that night, the seas were so choppy, so dark, so merciless that the entire empire hid itself away, its inhabitants numb with fear. the surfacers’ ships were tossed here and there like little bits of driftwood caught in the waves. some were even taken under by the sea itself; its passengers fates unknown, yet bleak - after all, most surfacers are unable to breathe underwater like you and your people. (years later, you would find a morbid delight in exploring their fallen vessels.) 

as so many others breathed their last, you breathed your very first. 

none were permitted to leave the castle for fear of lives being lost - be it to frenzied aquatic creatures, whirlpools or fallen debris. naturally, you don’t remember any of it. you were a newborn. but you’ve been told that your mother held you tightly for hours and hours - your tiny body wrapped up in blankets woven from fine seagrass as you both sat in the throne room of your family’s castle. 

the bards sing songs about that night. they sing songs about you: reides aurelian yon-zinthos kien-khavas laverath. the little prince who was born when laverathia thought it would never again see sunlight filtering down from above the waters. you became a symbol of hope. of perseverance. of fortitude. 

but you were just a baby.

ii.

your mother’s name is arlyn, and she is kind and beautiful and very much like one of those nice queens you read about in the storybooks. she wears flowing dresses made of colourful sea-plants and jewelry made of sparkling shells. everyone loves her. but she wasn’t always an empress. she once gathered clams and oysters and mussels for everyone to eat. then she fell in love with your father, and he fell in love with her. 

she still sometimes gets oysters for you - cracking open their shells with gentle hands. 

you’re not sure when she started drifting away from you, but you suspect that it’s probably your own fault. she still smiles when she catches you creeping into the castle when you’re supposed to be tucked away in bed, sleeping - so things can’t be all that bad. 

iii.

you have an older brother. his name is viglis, and he always wears elaborate shell armor that’s far too big for him. when you were little, he tried to teach you how to use a sword - but the blade was bigger and heavier than you were, so it didn’t work out at all. and the shield was even worse. it’s been years since then, but you suspect he’s still angry about it. in fact, he gets angry at you often. you can’t swim as fast as him. you don’t like what he likes. your head is filled with made-up things. but when other nobles whisper and gossip about you, he’s always the first to come to your defense. 

you have a younger brother, too. dhudus never seemed all that fond of you. as a baby, he pulled your hair and tore your books. he became very good with the sword that you couldn’t even hold up and viglis started spending a lot of time with him. you were secretly grateful for this because it gave you more time to explore on your own. even now, you don’t talk to dhudus all that much. every time he looks at you there is a distinct disinterest in his eyes. you take no offense to this because the sentiment is mutual. 

persana eventually conferred a blessing unto you: a younger sister. lotlyn was soft and sweet from the day she was born. she’d curl up next to you and nap for hours at a time. she makes you necklaces and ties colourful strings of pearls into your hair. you leap at every chance to protect her, to teach her. together, you’d write stories and sing songs. her mind reminds you of your mind. you’re not sure if this is something to be proud about or something to be concerned over, but you adore her all the same. she is the long-awaited princess of the empire and a better symbol of hope than you ever will be. 

iv. 

the head of the royal laverath family. the emperor. your father. khavas. he hardly ever smiles and is always busy, but the people consider him honest and just, so he must be good. he knows you love to read and always gives you books about your ancestors. from thick volumes recounting laverathia’s golden ages to first-hand accounts of great, gorey battles - the tales seem endless, and you enjoy them. you always have. you can recite a number of them from memory alone. 

but your father is very particular. he doesn’t want you to wander about. doesn’t want you to write stupid things. doesn’t want you to ask so many questions. he wants you to be a warrior. wants you to be steady. wants you to be strong.

the problem is that you don’t want to be any of those things. 

and while you love the stories about your family, the world out there is so much bigger than any of you will ever be. 

v.

you aren’t sure when you became the way that you are. it feels like you were always like this - it’s just the people around you took a long time to notice it. the ocean is so big; how could you possibly leave it unexplored? at times, you feel as if the walls of the castle are closing in on you. as if the water is stagnant around you; so stagnant that you can’t breathe. like a shark, you have to keep moving.

and so, you move.

you began sneaking out of the castle when you were young - far before lotlyn was born. it was an exciting routine; concealing yourself in inexpensive clothes and heading out when the waters grew dark. sometimes, the guards caught you. sometimes, your family caught you. 

still, you never stopped. after all - sometimes, no one caught you. 

in those instances, it was just you and an endless expanse of sea. you’d befriend creatures and explore undersea caverns. you’d scavenge shipwrecks for treasure and collect bits and pieces of the surface world. you’d get into trouble with monsters and have to fend them off, all on your own.

you always knew that you were no good with dhudus’ sword, or viglis’ shield. your mind is far sharper and more useful than any weapon would ever be. you find old scrolls tucked away in the library’s archives and begin learning spells - simple ones, more to ward off danger than do any serious harm to your opponents. you learn how to make ice manifest from your fingertips; how to make a shining light appear in the darkness; how to create illusions to disorient and confuse. you learn how to protect yourself, and you keep your capabilities secret. you don’t want a teacher. don’t want more rules and regulations to follow. 

no, your magic is yours and yours alone. your spells set you free. 

vi.

one time, you swim far out. too far out. 

laverathia’s waters are far behind you. it’s fine, though. you’re an adult and capable of taking care of yourself. you also aren’t lost; simply curious. your heart pounds in your chest - with worry or excitement, you aren’t entirely sure. a voice in your head whispers: turn back. another voice: press onward

it isn’t a difficult decision to make. 

you keep going until you see a ship. this one isn’t moving. it’s entirely still. ships are never still over laverathia - probably because your people don’t like them to be. 

it takes a while but you manage to swim up to it, pressing one of your hands against it. naturally, your people are told to never do this. never touch the ships, never touch the shiny hooks, never talk to the surfacers, never, never, never

and yet you have a thought. 

slowly, you edge up to the water’s end, sticking your face out of the sea’s depths. the surface-air crashes into you - seeps inside of you - and feels all too warm, all too thick. (it’s suffocating. it burns.) when you open your eyes (when did you close them?) you’re all too close to the sky, all too close to the stars. the light of the moon is unfiltered and full and shines down on you, and as you reach out to it, you’re baffled as to why you can’t swim your way up there. the confusion morphs into fear, and you duck beneath the waves, shaking; disoriented and disturbed.

but you do not swim away.

you hear laughter - laughter from that world beyond your own. you wonder - is someone laughing at you? indignant, you swim to the surface once more, bracing yourself for the same surge of distress. it’s easier the second time around, perhaps because you know what to expect. you know that the air burns. that the skies hold you down. 

the laughter doesn’t stop, and you soon realize that it isn’t directed towards you. 

you see the people on the ship. they’re all surface-dwellers: strange, gilless people, of all sorts of different sizes. and those people are talking.  

they talk about so many things. they talk about their big haul of fish, and how well they’ll be paid. about having a close brush with danger (it was deserved, you believe - one should never encroach on sea beasts’ territory) and the heroic exploits that followed in dealing with said danger. one talks about a port, and you recognize the word as the place where multitudes of ships dock. 

the thought of so many surface-dwellers existing in one space astounds you. they’re all so different from the people in laverathia... the clothes they wear are downright strange. each member of this ship’s crew is holding onto a bottle, and you wish you could have one, too: the bottles you scavenge from the shipwrecks are all chipped up and in pieces. they occasionally bring those bottles to their lips, and you realize that they must be drinking. how must the contents of those bottles taste? you wish you could know. 

for a moment, you think of asking. of calling out to them. but simply observing these people - breathing their air - is taking all of the courage which your heart can possibly muster. 

so you continue to listen to them, quiet from your spot amongst the waves. you listen to them laugh, listen to them complain, listen to them sing sea shanties and listen to them talk about their plans for tomorrow. 

and as you look up into the sky above you, you realize that you’ve never felt quite so small. the ocean is so very vast - and yet, somehow, it isn’t all there is. no, the surface… that place is vast, too. maybe even more vast than the ocean itself. you can’t really say. 

this knowledge sends you into a sort of daze. it makes everything around you seem like a dream. 

it’s a dream you’re content to stay in, until you see one of the surface-dwellers peer over the side of their ship. they point out into the sea and exclaim, in a slurred voice: 

“oy - what is that?!” 

(it’s you.) 

you duck back under the waves, swimming away as quickly as you can. you’re not sure how much time has passed before you stop, but you do, eventually. you stop and turn around. that ship and the strange, gilless people are far above you, now, and the vibrance of their sky is shielded away from you by the sea. 

you smile as you set off for home.

vii.

you were interested in the surface before but that encounter changed everything. what was once a passing interest - a daring curiosity born out of the dregs of childish rebellion - transformed into something more akin to an obsession. 

you scour books in the library for the slightest mention of the world above yours, making note of even the smallest of details. most of what you learn is from your people’s point of view but sometimes you’re lucky enough to find transcribed works. if only the surfacers’ books didn’t get reduced to soggy messes upon being submerged in the ocean! their ink bleeds and blends, and you end up dreaming of what they once said.

you spend years learning about their history. learning about their lands. learning about their languages and learning about their creatures. your treasures from shipwrecks become objects of study - you list what functions certain items may have and try to gauge how useful they may be for those who live on the surface. you wonder what they must think of your people… if they even know that your people exist beyond myths and legends and sailors’ superstitions. most of the tritons seem to observe the surfacers from a wary distance, shrouded behind a curtain as to protect themselves. to you, tearing down that curtain is a worthy goal. 

lotyln is the only person who understands - who shares - your enthusiasm. you’re happy to give her some of your scavenged treasures. to read stories to her and to talk about the world beyond laverathia. 

otherwise, you gain a reputation for your eccentricities. most react with indifference; passing it off as a strange quirk held by an equally strange prince. others try to stop you.

in fact, your older brother seems to take the most issue with it. viglis develops a habit of riding out at night, looking for you as to drag you back home. in turn, you become quite skillful at picking up the sound of his hippocampus’ fins tearing through the waters in search for you. he tells you that your father will not stand for this. but you are not the heir to the empire. why should he care?

you voice this to your brother and he looks at you as if you slapped him. 

if you care about the bloody surfacers so much, why don’t you just leave us for them?!” he snaps, and you know that his words are meant to sting.

what surprises you is that they do not. 

viii.

as you step into the throne room for an audience with your father, you are calm. 

your voice does not shake when you tell him your desire: to leave the laverathian empire as to explore the surface world. you wish to be some sort of ambassador - to improve relations between the surfacers and your people. you expect to be met with a degree of scorn. to be granted a strict schedule of visits to adhere to and to be told to be on your way.

instead, you are met with rage. 

you feel as if the entire empire can hear his yells. you are accused of betraying your people. you are accused of treason. you’ve never seen your father so angry. it’s as if years and years of fury have suddenly been unleashed upon you, all at once. you should shrink upon seeing him. upon hearing him. 

but instead, you grow defiant. you say that some triton scholars from these waters have journeyed to the surface, albeit in the past. you tell him that aquos’ very library holds books regarding what they studied - the last remaining relics of their knowledge. you deem the notion of treason as ridiculous and hyperbolic. you call this isolation foolish

perhaps it is all a mistake, as it also tells your father that you do not fear him. 

you can almost tell the exact moment he makes up his mind. you see it in the way his eyes darken, and in the way he grips the armrest of his throne - so tightly that his knuckles turn white. 

it’s hard to believe that this room once kept you safe from a raging storm. 

you are dragged out of it by guards; the very same guards you once took delight in sneaking past as a child. they do not listen to your protests - do not listen to your pleas. you call out for your mother, your brothers, your sister - but none of them hear you. 

you are taken to one of the castle’s towers and locked within. while it’s furnished opulently, it’s hidden away. thick sea glass and impenetrable stone walls separate you from the outside. it’s not a normal room.

you’re told that you will be freed once you calm down. once you become the prince you are meant to be. 

the revelation puts a knot in your stomach. 

that day will never come. 

ix.

and so a prince becomes a prisoner.

you don’t know what the official explanation for your disappearance is. perhaps there isn’t one.

at first, you try to get out. you spend hours banging your fists against the door. you call for help until your throat goes raw; until you lose your voice entirely. days pass and you don’t bother to count them. you feel your mind’s edge begin to dull. 

the emperor wants to dampen your passion. to stifle your spirit. you don’t want him to succeed. you know you’ve been foolish. impulsive and naive and blissfully unaware of the power that he wields. 

you try starving yourself but ultimately fail. it’s frustrating, everything is frustrating, and it’s as if your very spirit is fading away. and yet, when you close your eyes, you remember. 

you remember your adventures. learning your spells and talking with the sea creatures. you remember swimming in shipwrecks and finding all sorts of treasure. you remember taking your notes and studying, and you remember telling lotlyn about it all. 

you remember the night you strayed far away from laverathia. the night that you breathed the surface-air for the first time; the night that you saw the moon and the stars, unreachable yet shining so brightly in the sky. you remember the surfacers’ laughter. 

you remember freedom, and it is what keeps the walls from closing in.  

x. 

your sister is the one who finds you. 

the door creaks open, and, at first, you think that lotlyn is some kind of illusion. some kind of dream. but she’s real, and she runs up to hug you and is sobbing your name in a matter of seconds. 

you have to leave,” she says. “quickly. you have to.”

there’s no time to ask how she managed to get the guards to leave from their posts. no time to find out how she found the specific tower you were hidden away in. you suppose the specifics don’t entirely matter at the moment. 

as you don the cloak she brought with her, you look at her with a certain awe. wrapped in the cloak was your spellbook and a large shell; you recognize it as your arcane focus. 

you begin to ask her when she learnt about your magical abilities - but she just shakes her head. there’s no time. 

you both make your way out of the tower, lotlyn leading you through the castle’s twisting corridors. you practically raised her yourself and, now, she is the one protecting you. she’ll become stronger than your brothers, you’re sure of it. when you tell her this, she laughs softly.

you manage to escape through the back door of a certain room in a certain building. you slip through the castle stables and swim through the back-roads of the town. it’s the dead of night and very few people are out on the streets. none of them pay notice to you and your sister; you’re both disguised, after all. 

when you reach the edge of town, lotlyn hugs you so tightly, you feel as if you’ll suffocate in her grasp. instead of suffocating, you return the hug with equal fervor. it dawns upon you that she never asked if you wanted this. she just knew. the revelation makes you smile as you separate from her. 

you’d better enjoy it, you hear me? you’d better learn all sorts of amazing things.” 

you promise that you will. you will, no matter what. and you promise tell her all about those things, someday.

she hugs you again, and, suddenly, she lets go. she looks at you as if she wants to say something but, instead, opts to swim off quickly - without saying a thing. you don’t blame her. 

goodbyes are difficult, and you don’t want to believe that it’s the last time you’ll see her. 

what’s strange is that you can’t find it in your heart to be mad at your mother. you can’t even be mad at your brothers. you feel something towards your father; is it anger? is it hatred? you don’t know.  

what you do know is that nothing has changed. you are still a shark at heart. you must still keep moving. 

and so, you move. 

xi. 

you swim and you swim and you swim. you swim until you see a ship. 

a long net dangles below it. so far, no fish have swum into it. perhaps it was only recently lowered. starlight from above glistens in its fibers, making it look like an aquatic creature in its own right. if you didn’t know any better, you’d think of it as some kind of jellyfish. 

viglis taught you to never approach the surfacer’s nets. 

they’ll whisk you away from here. forever.” 

you think about that night, so long ago. you muster the same courage and curiosity which gave you the strength to dip your head above the waters for the very first time. 

and you fling yourself right into the net.

you become tangled in it instantly; your hair knotting up in those starlit threads. it’s hard to breathe in this thing, and you feel like a small fish caught in the jaws of a beast. you give it as harsh a tug as you can muster, and, when nothing happens, you tug it again and again and again. 

the net jerks and, slowly, you’re pulled out of the depths. the surface-air doesn’t burn as much as it did so long ago... but that may simply be because you’re too terrified to breathe properly. 

a surfacer pulls you up onto the boat and you land upon it (you land upon it!) with a harsh thud. 

i need you to help me,” you say, before he can so much as say anything. “i need you to take me to a port. any port. please.” 

the surfacer looks more confused by the second, but he must see something in your eyes, because he eventually smiles. it’s hesitant but such a welcome sight that you feel an urge to hug him - an urge you act upon. the embrace doesn’t quell his confusion - rather, it serves to make it all the more pronounced - but the surfacer does untangle you and move you to a room in the ship. it’s full of barrels and smells like fish, and he tells you not to leave or else the captain will fly into a rage and throw you both overboard. you tell him that you’ll stay put - and that you’ll keep the fact that he helped you a secret, no matter what. he seems to believe you, but also seems to be reluctant to leave your side. he finds you a large blanket made of some type of soft, scratchy material and says he’ll be back when he can. 

and then, you are alone. 

on the surface. alone. everything feels too dry and hot. dry and hot and… invigorating. the boat moves strangely - bobbing along like a great, lumbering whale - and it’s starting to make you feel sick. you keep having the strangest urge to swim upwards, too, even though the only thing above you is creaking wood. 

you curl into a ball under the blanket and try to acclimate yourself to this strange air. you have nothing but your spellbook and a shell - but you think of everything you want to do. everything you want to see. the surface is yours to experience, now. you’ve finally torn down the curtain which once shrouded the surface world from you. 

things will work out. 

they have to. 

xii. 

the surfacer never tells you his name and you never tell him yours. 

he visits every day, however. sometimes multiple times. his clothes are rather ragged and his skin is brown and smooth. you note that his ears have a slight point to them. his lack of gills kind of weirds you out at first, but you get used to it. he brings you strange surface food and drinks, and he talks to you about a variety of things. he doesn’t ask all that many questions about you or your people, and you’re thankful for this because you don’t think you could manage to lie to someone so kind. 

you pass the time by thinking about subjects to study and practicing your walking. it’s quite the process but, slowly, your reflex to swim upwards dwindles away. the surfacer warns you about land-legs and sea-legs, but it doesn’t make much sense to you, so you just nod along to be polite. 

time passes, and, just as you fall into a steady routine on-board, the surfacer tells you that you’ll be arriving at a port soon. in order to disembark without causing a scene, he also tells you that you’ll need to conceal yourself in one of the barrels filled with fish. 

frankly, you think it’s all very exciting. 

the two of you are able to execute the plan flawlessly; you peek out at the world through holes in the barrel as he lugs you off the ship. of course, when it’s time to extract you from the barrel, you both earn some odd looks from other surfacers, but you’re still too excited to care all that much. the morning sun shines down on you and fills your heart with light. 

but when all is said and done, your surfacer friend has to go back out to sea. after all, it’s his job, and this port is just one stop on his journey. he seems reluctant to leave you, but you see him off with another hug and a sincere thank-you - quietly hoping to meet once more. even if you don’t know each other’s names… if it is destined to happen, you believe it will.

as he leaves, you realize that the walls which once confined you are now entirely gone. the air in the port is salty and it feels like a new beginning. a new life. you walk about the docks and the surfacers stare at you with wide-eyed curiosity - but they don’t know who you are. in fact, most probably don’t even know what you are. 

that suits you just fine. 

you turn to the sea and quietly bid it farewell. you bid the laverath name farewell, too. 

and as you leave, you do not look back. 

02. your friend.


i. 

you haven’t been stowing away for very long. at least… you don’t think you have. you haven’t been keeping track of time all that well. the task is made harder by the fact that you haven’t seen any sunlight since you were pulled out of the ocean. the surfacer who helped you has visited a couple times, albeit never for long - only to give you meals. 

you mostly stick to the back of the room, behind a wall of barrels filled with fish. the fish are all dead and gutted - being preserved with some kind of complex magic - so you can’t talk to them, but that doesn’t bother you. you can barely communicate with the alive ones, anyways. you hate making yourself small like this but it’s a necessary precaution: the surfacer said that, if you were found out by the others, you’d both be in trouble. huge trouble. 

you think about being thrown back into the sea - about your father finding you once more - and your mouth fills with the acrid taste of fear. you never felt like this before you told him about wanting to go to the surface. and you’ve been in a lot of objectively scary situations! you’ve explored sunken ships and undersea caverns! you’ve been chased by creatures with far too many teeth! your heart has pounded as you conjured ice from your fingertips - as you protected yourself from whatever the sea decided to throw upon you during your adventures. 

and yet none of that compares to the feeling of those guards’ hands clamped around your arms, tugging you along that long, long hallway. none of it compares to how you screamed and screamed and how no one heard you; no one came for you. nothing compares to being alone in that tiny room with the locked door and the thick, opaque glass that just wouldn’t break. nothing. 

you pull the blanket that the surfacer gave you tighter around your shoulders, squeezing your eyes shut and pressing the heels of your hands against them. 

what will happen if your father finds you? when he learns that you’ve run away… will he know that lotlyn helped? will he do anything to her? on that note, how did lotlyn help? you have so many questions. after so many monotonous days, your whole life has suddenly changed in almost every single way. you can scarcely wrap your mind around any of it. at least you’re still you. you try to focus on breathing - in and out, in and out. the surface air isn’t as horrible now, but it still gets caught in your throat sometimes and you’re a bit worried that it’ll suffocate you. 

“...hello?”

your body jerks forward as you let out a startled yelp. eyes open, your world has light once more - light which reveals the surfacer. your sudden exclamation shocked him; he almost drops the lantern clutched in his hand. the books clutched in his other hand aren’t as fortunate, however. they all go tumbling to the floor. 

his eyes are wide. he looks down at the mess in front of him, slack-jawed. incredulous. the oddly goofy expression cracks through your fear. you find yourself laughing, as if the memories of all you’ve been through have suddenly dissipated - like sea foam that has finally reached the shore. 

“i’m glad that you think this is funny,” the surfacer says, his voice dry - but you can tell he’s fighting off his own urge to laugh. “i told you - we have to be quiet.” 

you know. you were just thinking about that. and yet, somehow, your fears don’t seem to loom over you quite as much.

you help him pick up the books and recognize a few of the titles. when you tell him this, he’s clearly surprised. 

“you - you read down there, in the sea?” he blinks. “how?”

“why wouldn’t we?” you feign ignorance, as if you haven’t bemoaned finding ruined surfacer books at the bottom of the seafloor, time and time again. 

“well - uh - the…” the surfacer is at a loss for words. “the water -”

“they get translated onto our own materials,” you interrupt, granting him that small bit of mercy. “so the ink and pages don’t get all messed up.” you flip through one of the books. it’s filled with illustrations of maps: pictorial representations of the whole world out there. the sight isn’t foreign to you, yet it makes your chest tighten. everything feels so much more real, now. 

“where are you from, anyway?” the surfacer asks. 

“the sea.” your reply comes too quickly; he eyes you with suspicion.

“oh, come on,” he says. “i meant where in the sea.”

“the sea is the sea.” you certainly don’t want to mention your home to him. you don’t want to mention it to anyone. you know that anyone who so much as looks into laverathia at the moment will likely find out that their prince has gone missing. 

“fine. be difficult,” he says, frowning as he grabs one of the books for himself. “not like i’m risking my job here for you, anyways.” 

there’s an annoying little twinge of guilt in your chest. you know that was his intention, but it works nonetheless. 

“i just lived with my people,” you say. “that’s all.” 

“with other tritons?” the surfacer is fascinated. you just nod. “you’re the first one i’ve ever seen.” 

“i’ve seen people like you before.” at least you think so.

“have you?” the surfacer tilts his head, curious. “...ah. on ships.” 

“yes. though maybe not as often as you’d think.” the ocean is deep, after all. very deep. “most of you know better than to stray into triton territory.” all sorts of deals are in effect with various surface political figures. “my people don’t care very much about surfacers.”

“yet you do,” the surfacer interjects. 

“i do.” you light up. “i’ve studied the surface for years. your history is so interesting!” if only you weren’t of noble birth. perhaps you could have simply become a scholar and left laverathia on your own terms. 

for a moment, the surfacer seems to be unable to meet your gaze. did you say something strange? he’s behaving as if you did. 

“if i’m not the first surfacer you’ve met,” he says, “why didn’t you run off with one of those others?” 

your mind goes blank. it’s true - maybe you could’ve done that. it just never occurred to you that it was an option. when you tangled yourself up in this surfacer’s net, you were nothing short of desperate. you had two options: get caught in the net or get caught by laverathia’s guards. (though, now that you think about it, you were more likely to get caught by your brother than any guard. viglis was always incredibly stubborn about tracking you down every time you slipped out of the kingdom. you should consider yourself lucky that he didn’t manage to foil your escape altogether.)

“i suppose it doesn’t matter now,” the surfacer says, his voice snapping you out of your thoughts. “but, word of advice... not everyone up here’s as noble, kind-hearted, generous, charitable and handsome as me.” he grins. “you should be careful.” 

“i think that people are better than we give them credit for,” you say. “regardless of where they’re from.” 

he stares at you, expression unreadable. he then looks down at the book held in his hands. you don’t recognize that one. more importantly: did you say something wrong again? talking with people is difficult

“...thank you, though!” you manage to chirp out, your tone light. “you certainly did save me. i was in a tough spot. i’m not sure what i would’ve done if you tossed me back into the sea.” 

that pleases him. that silly grin is back and he’s able to meet your gaze once more. “no problem,” he says. “was bored stiff, to be honest. the crew always sticks me with the late-night shifts… it’s not fair.” the grin is replaced by a pout. “i lose one bet and now they have me doing all their dirty work. and that includes manning this room...” he groans. 

“it’s fine!” you exclaim in another attempt to cheer him up. this surfacer is rather emotional, isn’t he? “if you weren’t doing their dirty work, we’d have never met.” 

“that’s true,” he says. “i suppose everything worked out for the best.” 

it’s an off-handed comment but it comforts you all the same. the past few weeks have been an ordeal. memories of all you’ve been through cling to you like a second skin. they’ve seeped into you and have formed nightmares which are bound to last for many days to come. 

and yet, you are here. you rose past the cruelty of your father. you broke free from the chains of duty despite the noble blood running through your veins.

everything worked out for the best

you’re fine now. you’re okay now. you’re on the surface now. 

your eyes sting - why? you rub at them and find out that they’re… wet.

“a-are you alright?!” the surfacer panics, casting his book aside to grab your shoulders. 

“my eyes are leaking,” you say. 

the surfacer stares at you blankly. “what?”

it’s your turn to panic. “my eyes! they’re leaking! what is this?! am i ill?!”

“what?” the surfacer repeats, and more and more water spills from your eyes. 

“i don’t know what’s happening!” you wail, pressing your hands against your face once more as if to push the water back into your body. is this some sort of side-effect to coming to the surface? some kind of punishment? 

“it’s normal!” the surfacer insists. he grabs onto your arms - directing your hands away from your face. “they’re tears. you’re crying!” 

oh. 

crying

of course. 

that feeling in your chest has made you cry. 

“haven’t you cried before?” the surfacer’s still quite panicked. 

“i have,” you manage to say as you sniffle. “but everything around us is… dry. it’s - it’s strange. different from… home.” crying underwater isn’t at all like this. much like the way the surface’s air sits within your chest, your tears feel entirely too thick and heavy as they trail down your face. 

you’re not sad. you’re happy. so, why…? 

“oh. right.” the surfacer lets go of you. “i didn’t think of that. wow. don’t think i’ve ever cried underwater.” he pales. “don’t think i can.”

you sniffle some more, wiping at your eyes. the surfacer asks if you’re alright a few more times, and you feel as if you need to convince him. you repeatedly tell him that you’re fine. it’s not a lie: you’re more than fine. like he said, everything worked out for the best. 

eventually, the surfacer seems convinced - at least for the most part. he stops pestering you, instead settling on eyeing you warily once more. you recognize that look on his face. it’s the same look that he had when you first met him. a silence settles between the two of you, with only the creaking of the ship and the crash of waves outside daring to challenge it. you find yourself bothered by that. it’s a realization that shocks you - after all, you’ve always been fine with being on your own. but you’re not one to analyze your emotions too deeply. once your tears have finally stopped falling, you look at the surfacer in his eyes once more. 

“you’ve never stayed down here for this long,” you say.

“i know. sorry about that.” he rubs the back of his head, sheepish. “i meant to hang around here with you more often, but the captain’s got a short fuse. she chewed me out for fuckin’ up the nets on the night i found you, so i had to do a bunch of extra shit to make up for it. that’s why i only stopped by to drop off food and stuff before.” his features brighten. “i should be able to visit you for longer now. things’ve mostly calmed down around here. we’ll be docking at a new port soon.” 

a new port. that’s where you’ll disembark. a smile finds its way to your face. 

“sorry it’s so disgusting down here,” the surfacer continues, oblivious to your delight. “stinks like rotten hell ‘cos of the fish. good thing i’m mostly used to it. can’t be a sailor and not stomach the smell of fish.” 

“i can talk to them, you know.” you blurt it out before you can stop yourself. “...fish.” you expect the surfacer to react with mild horror (most surfacers can’t talk to fish, you think), but this one meets you with a distinct sort of fascination.  

“seriously?” he’s definitely excited. 

“yes. well, i can only talk to them a little,” you say. “and only when they’re alive.”

the surfacer laughs - a genuine sound which takes you back to the night that you first dared to dip your head above the waves. 

“you can’t magically commune with the spirits of long-gone fish? that’s a shame,” he says. “i’d like to hear what the ones we’ve caught have to say.” a pause. “or maybe not.” he eyes the barrels next to you. “they’re probably not too pleased with me.” 

“i can use some magic.” you shift about, pulling your spellbook out from the blanket. “i have a few spells written in here.” and you know the exact one you want. flipping through its pages, you settle on the one you desire.

minor illusion

your eyes drift over the page’s contents… and then you close them. the apparition that you wish to conjure slowly comes together, piece by piece; you feel power rise in your chest. it’s a comforting sensation. 

you open your eyes. between you and the surfacer is a small, red fish, swimming in the air. 

the surfacer gasps loudly. he tries to leap to his feet but instead falls backwards, flailing. unbothered, the illusion keeps swimming - and you start laughing. the only person you’d show your magic to like this was lotlyn, and you never played pranks on her. 

“that - you - huh?!” the surfacer is aghast. “is that magic?!” 

you’re laughing too hard to reply, so you simply nod vigorously. you then reach out to the fish, gently allowing your hand to phase through it. 

“by the ten,” the surfacer breathes. he reaches out to it, too - gasping when he makes contact with it and is, presumably, unable to feel anything. “that’s incredible. just who are you?”

“it’s a simple spell,” you say, ignoring his question. “i can try to teach it to you if you’d like.”

the surfacer’s still marveling at the illusion. “no thanks. i’m not a very magical sort of man.” thankfully, he doesn’t press on about finding details about who you are. 

he edges closer to the fish, peering at it up close. he then gasps again, slapping his own head softly. “shit,” he says. “i forgot. i meant to drop off the books here then get food for you.”

“i don’t need food,” you say. 

the surfacer rolls his eyes. “you know what happens when you don’t eat? you starve,” he says. “or you get a stomach ache, and no one likes stomach aches. hang on, okay? i’ll get you something from the canteen. there should be leftovers…” he gets to his feet - successfully, this time, due to his lack of flailing about. “i’ll be back in a moment. you can read something in the meantime, if you’d like.” 

the surfacer makes his way out of the room, quickly heading up the stairs. he closes the door behind him, leaving you with your illusory fish. you smile at it before quietly allowing it to dissipate. once it does, you’re truly alone.

and yet, you do not feel loneliness.


ii.


the surfacer brings you some type of stewish-looking meal and an amber-coloured drink. you’re not hungry - your appetite has been awry ever since you were locked away - but you can’t possibly pass up a chance at trying it out. 

especially the drink. down in the sea, there was never any need for you to drink anything. of course, there were ways of getting around this limitation… but none of that compares to the simple joy of simply drinking on the surface. 

besides water, all you’ve drank up here is some delightfully disgusting stuff known as “ale” - and so the presence of a new beverage certainly grabs your attention. you sniff at the mug which the liquid is in. the scent of it makes your whole face tingle. 

“firewhiskey.” the surfacer answers your question before you can ask it. “try it.”

you’ve heard about whiskey before. firewhiskey, however, is entirely new to you. you stare down at it for a moment before bringing the mug to your lips. holding your breath, you take a big gulp - and the drink hits the back of your throat with such intensity that you begin choking. 

the surfacer pats your back reassuringly. “can’t say i’m surprised.” 

“that…!” you wheeze, putting the mug down next to you. “that was amazing!” 

the surfacer laughs, shaking his head. “if you say so. it’s a lifesaver on cold nights at sea. maybe don’t drink it so fast.” 

you nod eagerly, still coughing. the sensation was truly unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. how did surfacers manage to craft something like this? you take another sip - a small one. this time, you don’t choke, but some does run down your chin. 

“this tastes like fire, i think,” you say.

the surfacer laughs again. “i’m inclined to agree, given its name. just stick to the firewhiskey and don’t go tasting any real fire.” 

“i know,” you say, because you’ve read all about fire and what it can do. you even considered learning fire spells, though you decided they wouldn’t be of much use to you down in the sea. you drink more whiskey and its warmth spills through your whole body. 

“the stew’s not all that interesting, compared to that,” the surfacer says. “it’s made out of fish.”

“fish?” you echo, glancing down at it. it’s murky and brown. “what type of fish?”

the surfacer shrugs. “fish.” 

“aren’t you a fisher?” you tease, but you try the stew anyway. it’s nauseatingly salty, yet, somehow, good. like the firewhiskey, it makes you feel all the more warm. this type of warmth isn’t something you’re used to. not yet. 

“i have no say in what goes on in the galley,” the surfacer replies, grinning. for such an odd person, he’s surprisingly easy for you to talk to. perhaps it’s because you’re odd, yourself… at least according to people back in laverathia. “what do you think about it?”

“it’s good,” you say. 

the surfacer sits in front of you, clearly searching your face for something. 

“...huh,” he says. “you’re either one hell of a good liar or you need to eat better food.”

“it is good!” you insist, bringing another spoonful of the stew to your lips. “it’s warm.”

the surfacer makes a small noise of understanding. “now i get it,” he says. “you’re not used to warm food yet. there’s better stuff out there.” 

better stuff…? you beam, excited at the thought of being able to taste many new things. you’re fond of sea cuisine, but there are so many different meats and plants on the surface. 

“port towns have the best food,” the surfacer continues. “stick to the cheaper ones. the expensive places aren’t worth it. for a bunch of haughty nobles, they sure love stealing people’s hard-earned gold.” 

the very second he mentions nobles, the blood in your veins feels as if it has turned to ice: a strange sensation when coupled with the warmth of your meal. you’re a noble - one of the highest tiers of noble, in fact. but you’re not haughty… are you?

the surfacer’s still ranting away. “ - all for some tiny little portion in the middle of a giant plate! with a garnish you can’t even eat.” 

you sip at more firewhiskey and eat more stew, saying nothing. luckily, the surfacer doesn’t seem to pick up on your silence as unnatural. he simply keeps on ranting about expensive eateries and the corrupt nobles that run them. you agree that they sound horrible, but do you have the right to agree, as a prince? the whiskey burns away in your throat. 

“where’s your food?” 

“ - years of schooling for it, they say. ridiculous - wait, what?” the surfacer’s rant finally comes to an end; you interrupted it. “i already ate. those’re leftovers. sorry, had to wait for the crew to clear out.” a grimace. “the chef loves giving me shit for taking seconds but it’s no big deal. he’s just a dick.” 

“oh.” you look down at the stew. it seems like you’ve successfully changed the subject. you’re relieved, but you feel bad about that relief. is it really okay to hide so much from this person? 

“...sorry,” the surfacer says, and you immediately look back up at him, wide-eyed. “i wish you could meet the crew. they’re annoying but most of ‘em are good people. when they’re not tormenting me, that is.” 

so, he could tell that you were feeling bad… but wasn’t able to infer the correct reason. you don’t blame him for that, not at all. you try not to let your guilt show.  

“the captain’s just strict,” he says. “she’s got a policy about picking up strays. not that you’re a stray!” a correction as quick as it is unneeded; you didn’t take any offense. “things happened in the past. bad things. she’s been through a lot.” a shrug. 

“it’s okay,” you say. “i don’t need to meet anyone else. i like talking to you.” 

the surfacer looks away. the pointed tips of his ears slowly go pink, then red. 

“yeah. thanks. i, also, uh...” he still isn’t looking at you. “...yeah. like i said, i’ll try to come down more often. so. yeah.” 

you smile, pleased that he seems to have liked your compliment, and finally resume eating your stew properly. it’s not as warm, now, but that’s just fine. 

the surfacer doesn’t talk for a while. instead, he grabs one of the books that he brought down and begins leafing through it, eventually settling on a chapter. 

you watch him as you eat, observing how the red hue of his flush slowly lightens until it fades away entirely. the surfacer’s skin is unlike that of your people. it’s smoother and brown; sunkissed. a scar runs across his left cheek and he has freckles that remind you of the constellations you’ve read about in books. you stare at his neck, as if its skin will gently split open to reveal gills. 

“you can’t breathe underwater,” you blurt out. this gets him glancing up at you again. 

“...you’re right. i sure can’t.” 

you lean forward, examining him closer - still chewing on stew. it’s your last mouthful; the bowl’s just about empty, now. 

“doesn’t it scare you,” you say, “being surrounded by the sea? your ship is so tiny compared to it. if a big wave hit your vessel and it sunk, you’d drown. we’re far from land, aren’t we?” 

the surfacer balks at you for a moment. 

“it’s not my ship,” he says. “and i try not to think about big waves potentially slamming into us and killing me. i’d rather not experience a knockdown.”

“that’s fair.” you don’t like thinking about bad things happening, either. “it’s still brave of you. the sea isn’t merciful.” 

he smirks. “you’re plenty brave, yourself.” are you? “leaving your home like that to explore the surface takes guts. the land isn’t merciful, either.”

the sea and land are similar, in that sense, aren’t they? existing in harmony as their own entities, full of other living things… the connection makes you starry-eyed. 

“i’ve spent years of my life on ships,” the surfacer says. “don’t think anything’s scarier than being at sea during a storm.” he shivers. “you feel so small. so helpless.” 

storms… you wonder how they must be on the surface. you’ve experienced them down in the sea - seen the way the waters whirl; the way they push and pull. you’ve also seen the ships above get tossed about as if they weighed absolutely nothing. you wonder if this surfacer was ever on one of those boats. 

the surfacer returns to his book and you observe him some more. his eyes are a sharp green which you’ve never quite seen before. his hair is brown and reminds you of the shipwrecks you’d explore as a child; of treasures hidden beneath broken, splintered wood.

you don’t want this surfacer’s ship to sink. talking to him makes those explorations seem bittersweet. as exciting as they were, people were once on those ships. people with their own stories. people with their own lives - lives which may have very well been lost to wreckage. you hope that, by exploring what remained of their passage, you were able to honor them… even if it was only a little. 

and yet, despite it all… 

“the sea can be kind, too,” you say, quietly, the sight of sunlight slipping through waves coming back to you. you think of the creatures that live within its waters - and you think of your people and their innovations, too. even now, the sea’s vastness is enrapturing. perhaps you’ll explore its depths fully someday. 

“believe me, i know,” the surfacer says, grinning. “even if we’re just heading out to catch fish, a voyage is a voyage and i love voyages. the feeling you get, looking out to the horizon… seeing that point where the sky meets the sea.” he lets out a wistful little sigh. “it makes me feel like i can go anywhere. like i can do anything. there’s nothing like it.” 

your chest tightens, because you get it. you understand exactly what he means. “that’s… freedom, isn’t it?”

his grin widens as he nods, and you smile, because you’ve been chasing after that very same feeling for so many years. you’ve had tastes of it but never truly felt it - not like he has. not yet. 

“you’re a runaway,” the surfacer says, “so you’re probably looking for your own freedom, huh?”

a runaway… really? well, you did run away from home, so... “i am.” 

“if only you weren’t so adamant about going on land.” the surfacer closes his book. “you’d be a big help on our ship. there’s something poetic about a fisher who can talk to fish. you can call them over - have ‘em swim right into my net!” 

you chuckle. “i told you - i can’t talk to them all that much.” you can see the appeal of living a life on the sea like this, though. constantly on the move… seeing all sorts of sights. “isn’t your captain strict, anyway?”

the surfacer shrugs. “i could pretend that i scouted you on land. we can sneak you out of here in one of these barrels and work from there.”

there’s a hopeful edge to his voice that makes you consider it. it really, truly does. but you have to go to land. drifting barely above the ocean’s waters isn’t enough. you’d hardly be out of your father’s grasp. 

you may even endanger this ship if you stay on it. you may endanger him. it’s too much of a risk. 

“maybe someday,” you say. 

“someday?” the stranger repeats. he’s disappointed, you can tell. “how long do you want to be on land, anyways?” 

you didn’t plan that far. “for a while.” you love the sea too much to never go back to it. it’s just that going home isn’t an option. you don’t want to experience that fear again. you don’t want to be caged again. 

the surfacer grumbles something under his breath that you don’t quite catch. 

“there are many things i want to see,” you say. “many things i want to study. i can’t give up on any of that. not after coming so far.” 

the surfacer groans. “yeah, yeah. you’ve got your own plans. i get it. can’t expect you to ditch everything for some random fishing ship full of nobodies.” 

you frown. “you’re not a nobody.”

he snorts. “uh, i definitely am.” 

“you’re not!” you don’t mean to shout. it just happens. 

the surfacer winces. “keep your voice down!”

“i would be doomed if it weren’t for you!” you’re not shouting anymore but you are upset and you make no effort to hide it. “how could you possibly be a nobody? nobody in this world is a nobody!” 

“okay, okay,” the surfacer says. “damn. i was kidding, y’know. no need to get so upset.” 

you fold your arms, still annoyed, and he snorts again. 

“i bet you’re gonna do all kinds of big things, wherever you end up,” the surfacer muses. “when you’re all famous, i’m gonna get to brag to a tavern full of thugs that i got yelled at by you, once.” 

your frown doesn’t budge. big things are never any good news for you. duty is more akin to a cage and heroism is far too unnatural. you’ve read about heroes in your books, after all. the pomp and ceremony that comes to surround them doesn’t appeal to you in the slightest. in fact, that sort of thing makes you feel uncomfortable. like you’re wearing a too-heavy suit of armor. 

“i’m just messing with you.” the surfacer gently nudges you. “i’m glad that i can help you out with whatever it is you’re doing. seriously. don’t be mad.”

“i’ll stop being mad if you stop calling yourself a nobody.” 

“i told you, i was kidding!”

“well, i’m not!” how can anyone even joke about such a thing? “promise me that you won’t do it again.”

“seriously?”

“promise me!” 

the surfacer sighs. “fine. i promise.”

he sounds sincere enough. your frown fades in the face of that sincerity and you unfold your arms. 

“good,” you say.

“you’re a weird guy, you know that?” the surfacer shakes his head, laughing as he grabs a new book from the pile.

the way he says that - it’s strange. there’s a notable lack of malice in his tone; perhaps even fondness. it reminds you of the way lotlyn would tease you, while somehow being incredibly different at the same time. 

“i get that a lot,” you admit. “but, i must say… you’re rather weird, yourself.”

he snorts. “thanks, i think,” he says. 

and you smile. 


iii.


time marches on and on, and the surfacer visits you each and every evening. there are nights when the two of you don’t talk very much, instead opting to read books together in a comfortable silence. there are nights when he’s too tired to speak; when he falls asleep down there with you and you have to wake him up, lest he get into trouble for not being in his bunk room. and there are nights where he’s energetic and rowdy, and the two of you talk and laugh and forget that you’re meant to be quiet altogether. 

the surfacer’s been teaching you of different types of walking; of land legs and sea legs. you don’t get it all that much - walking is walking, isn’t it? thankfully, time manages to stifle the reflex that you have to try to swim upwards in the surface-air. such a thing would be impossible, of course, but the urge itself was disorienting. you’re a bit worried that swimming will feel strange the next time you do it…  but that’ll be another trouble, for another day. a day when you’re not confined to a tiny room, full of fish.

whenever the surfacer isn’t around, you practice this walking - keeping your steps light, focusing on retaining your balance. oddly enough, the movement of the ship upon the waves helps you. it’s as if the sea itself is guiding each step you take; preparing you for when you’re on land. 

one day, while you are practicing your walking, you hear something.

heavy steps, approaching the door that separates you from the rest of the ship. you know the surfacer’s steps. they’re not heavy - and not exactly light, either. rather, they’re marked by a certain imprecision that’s somehow charming. 

these steps are precise, and they’re definitely not charming. 

these steps belong to someone else.

your breath catches and you dive into a corner of the room, wedging yourself between barrels of caught fish. your blanket is close by -  you stick your hand out, grabbing it so you can shroud yourself from view, just in case. 

it happens so quickly. the very moment you’re properly concealed, the door opens. 

you close your eyes and hold your breath.

“fuckin’ mages…” someone grumbles, and they continue their stomping. “better not be robbin’ me of my coin again.” there’s the sound of something slamming into a barrel, then grunting. 

your throat tightens, but you open your eyes. now isn’t the time to be curious - you know it’s not. 

and yet, here you are. curious. 

the person doesn’t sound close to your hiding spot. maybe you can take a peek. just a tiny one. you shift the blanket ever-so-slightly; just enough so you can see whoever it is from your spot amongst the barrels.

across the room from you is... a woman. she’s wearing a long, dark coat, and her equally dark hair is held up in a tightly-knotted braid. she’s also tall. very tall. she seems to be a human… she must be tall for one. wait, are all humans tall? you’re not entirely sure. she’s certainly taller than your surfacer friend, and he’s taller than you. but he’s not a human. he’s a half-elf. so -

your thoughts are interrupted by the woman. she lets out a loud grunt as she yanks the lid off the barrel that she was previously doing something to. she tosses it behind her and the loud thud it makes against the wooden floor makes you gasp. luckily, she doesn’t seem to notice. no, she’s too busy glaring into the barrel. she reaches into the barrel and grabs onto a fish. 

“you better be fresh, still,” she says, and you realize that she’s got quite a bit of muscle on her, too. “these mages and their bloody magic… works one moment then fucks up the next. i’ll rip that man’s head off myself if this batch goes sour like the last.” 

her voice is low and gravelly, and her anger is apparent in the way that she’s squeezing the fish. it’s already been gutted, but you still wince at the sight of it in her grasp.

“c-captain?!” a familiar voice, with equally familiar steps. the surfacer comes bounding into the room. “what are you doing down here? i thought -” 

“it’s my ship,” the woman - the captain - states. “i’ll go where i please.” 

the surfacer is looking around the room, clearly panicked. did he think that she found you? you wish you could let him know that you’re all right.

“i know! of course! but...” the surfacer finally places his attentions on her and the sight of the fish in her grasp leaves him speechless. “...did you get that fish from a barrel?” 

“what does it look like?!” she gestures at the opened barrel in front of her. “of course i fucking did! those atemcester cunts better not be makin’ a fool of this vessel again! when we make it to port, these fish better be fresh as the day we gutted them, or else i’ll march right into that city and gut some of them mages myself!” 

“i told you,” the surfacer says. “if you break the seal on the barrel, the magic won’t last.” 

there’s a pause. she slowly lowers the fish. “what?”

“the magic won’t last,” the surfacer repeats. he’s so nonplussed by her violent words that you’re a bit impressed. “it’s on the barrel. not the fish.”

you can practically see the captain’s brain piecing this information together. it seems to click for her because she suddenly drops the fish. it falls to the floor with a wet little thump. 

you snort - your hand flies up to cover your mouth while the other covers yourself up with the blanket once more. 

the ensuing silence is enough to make you want to scream. you’re back to not breathing - eyes clamped shut so the world around you goes dark. you’re hidden, she can’t see you, you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine -

“did you just laugh at me?” the captain growls. is she talking to you? no. she can’t be. she can’t see you. can she? oh, shit, can she?! 

“i did,” the surfacer states. what is he doing?! he didn’t laugh. you did! “you have to admit - it’s funny. the… barrel. of fish. wasted.”

there’s another silence. 

it’s broken by the sound of a squelch. and then… a thwap

“ow!” the surfacer whines. “what was that for?! i didn’t do anything!” 

“we’ll use them as bait,” the captain grumbles. “move the barrel up deck. get going.”

“what?!” the surfacer’s alarmed, but he sounds fine enough. there’re more heavy steps. you move the blanket away from your face - just in time to see the captain leaving the room. she doesn’t close the door behind her. 

“fuckin’ hell…” the surfacer rubs at his face, then looks around the room some more. 

you wait a while - until you can’t hear any more of the captain’s footsteps. deeming it safe to come out, you stick one of your hands out from your hiding spot, wiggling your webbed fingers. 

“woah!” the surfacer catches sight of you instantly. “you scared me!” he rushes over to your corner, grabbing onto your hand and helping you up. “that was terrifying. i thought she caught you.” 

he leans against one of the barrels that you were hiding behind, seemingly exhausted. 

you look around the room. on the floor, next to the fish that the captain dropped, is yet another fish. 

pointing at it, you turn to the surfacer once more. “did she throw that at you?” 

he lets out a long sigh. 

“yes,” he says. “yes, she did. hit me right in the face.” 

he tilts his head to show off a bright red mark on his cheek and you have to bite your tongue, lest you have a laughing fit. 

“it’s a miracle that i haven’t lost my job with you around,” the surfacer says. “seriously. nothing short of a miracle.”


iv.


“we’ll be docking at a port soon.” 

you peek over the top of your book. “really?!” 

the surfacer nods, walking into the room. “yeah. in two or three days, give or take.” he’s holding some kind of satchel. “damn, you ate that quickly.”

an empty bowl and equally empty flagon are placed neatly at your side. “i was hungry,” you say, not self-conscious about your suddenly voracious appetite. you’re mostly glad it’s returned to you.

“i can get more food for you, if you want,” the surfacer says as he gently drops the satchel in front of you. 

“more firewhiskey would be nice,” you say, putting the book aside as you move to examine the satchel. 

“firewhiskey’s not food.” 

“it counts!” you gesture towards the satchel. “what’s this?”

“clothes,” the surfacer replies. 

“clothes?”

“yeah. for you.” kneeling down, he opens up the satchel, revealing simple-looking surfacer garb. you immediately reach into it, grabbing onto the outfit. 

“what material is this?” you hold the pants up, excited. 

“some sorta monster hide. i dunno,” the surfacer says. “i stole ‘em from a crewmate.”

“you stole them?” you lower the pants. “is that allowed?” 

“don’t worry about it,” the surfacer replies. “all his outfits look the same and he has way too many of them. plus, you can’t exactly go runnin’ around in… whatever that is.” 

you look down at your clothes - traditional triton ones, albeit not that formal. “i don’t think they’re that bad,” you say. 

“what are your pants even made out of?” the surfacer asks. “scales?” 

you shrug. “some sort of monster scales.” 

the surfacer picks up on you using his response to your question against him and he’s clearly unamused. you grin. that being said, maybe it would be best to part with your deep sea clothes... 

“and your shirt,” the surfacer says. “is that made out of seaweed?” 

“no,” you say. “seaweed is too thin to wear in public. it’s better to just eat it.”

“huh.” he doesn’t seem convinced. “...whatever. just change into that. i’ll go grab you some more food.” 

he stands up and you frown. “what about my armor?”

“...maybe we can throw it overboard?” 

“but it’s my armor. i like it.” you picked the shells out yourself. you may not want to be linked to your family right now but your armor is different. it’s not like the stuffy, overly ornate armor of the laverathian guards. it’s yours. it’s special

“i don’t know if those shells even qualify as armor…” the surfacer frowns. “...wear whatever you want, i guess. i’ll be back in a sec.”

he turns on his heel, making his way out of the room.

“bring more than one flagon,” you call out after him. he gives you a pointed look as he closes the door behind him.

you stare at the clothes in front of you: light-yet-sturdy pants dyed a dark blue... tall black boots made out of some smooth sort of hide. there’s also a brown belt and a shirt made from thick, white cloth. 

you get changed quickly. the first thing you realize upon putting everything on is that surfacer clothes are heavy

heavy and warm. way too warm.

you like feeling warm, for the most part.

but this? this is too warm.

why?! 

you spend less than half an hour in the new outfit and already feel like you’re overheating. you end up unfastening your shell pauldron so you can take the damned shirt off. you throw it onto the floor and stare down at it disdainfully.

when the surfacer returns, you’re still staring at it. 

“did something happen here?” he asks, closing the door behind him as he walks over. 

“it’s too hot,” you say. “it feels like it’s trying to suffocate me.” you catch sight of the bottle in his hand and your face brightens. “firewhiskey!”

the surfacer hands the firewhiskey over to you and you marvel at it. a whole bottle! 

“seriously?” he picks up the shirt. “guess it’s thicker than mine, but i don’t see the big deal.” 

“maybe i can wear one of yours?” you suggest. 

“i don’t have any to spare,” the surfacer retorts, his ears turning pink. 

“oh.” you frown. “then…” 

“should i steal another one?” he asks, and you shake your head, because you have an idea.

grinning widely, you put the bottle of whiskey down… then grab onto the blanket that the surfacer got for you on your first night here. 

the surfacer has no reaction to this. he just stares. “what?” 

“i can use this!” you say. “i read about it in a book, once. hold on.” 

you wrap the blanket under your arm and drape it over your shoulder. like your pants, the material is dark blue - but it’s flowy and free; far more light than the shirt. you can actually breathe with it on.

“there!” you puff your chest out, pleased. “much better!”

the surfacer continues to stare. “i’m… not sure if this counts as being conducive to blending in,” he says. “also - it’s way too long in the back.” 

“is it?” you haven’t tied it yet, either. “can you cut off some of it?” 

“so much for that cloth,” the surfacer groans, standing up. “it wasn’t cheap, y’know.” 

“it’s going to even better use, now!” you chirp. the surfacer sighs as he takes his dagger out of the case strapped at his side. in one quick motion, he cuts the cloth shorter - then even ties it for you. 

it feels far better than the stuffy shirt did. you can actually move in it. you re-fasten your pauldron then put your hands on your hips. “well?!” 

the surfacer looks a little bemused, but he eventually smiles. “it suits you. that’s for sure.”

“thank you!” you reach out, grabbing onto the spare piece of long cloth that the surfacer just cut off for you. “this can go here.” you loop it around your arm, tying it in place. “see? nothing went to waste!” 

“...guess you don’t need to blend in,” the surfacer admits. “after all, you’re obviously a triton. that alone will get you attention. maybe you should just stick to your old outfit.” 

you pout, and you don’t even need to reply to that before the surfacer barks out a laugh.

“never mind, never mind!” he rubs at his eyes. “do whatever you want. it looks good.” 

 “you think so?!” you’re back to beaming. “i feel so surface-y.” 

“good for you.” he picks up the shirt that you deemed unsatisfactory. “guess i’ll toss this back in clive’s trunk.” he tosses it on the floor once more. 

“is clive the name of the person you stole from?” 

“yup.” the surfacer stretches. “glad that’s settled. what should we do with your old outfit?”

you kneel down, staring at it. you don’t feel attached to it - it’s not as special as your armor. 

“i suppose we can throw it overboard,” you say. “i’d rather not take it to a merchant or something. that might cause trouble.” it might alert them to your true identity. you don’t know how versed surfacers are in the ways of your people, after all. laverathia is very isolationistic, but…

“alright.” the surfacer’s fine with that; he doesn’t ask any questions. “i should do that now, then. the rest of the crew’s busy. no one’ll catch me and ask dumb questions.” 

the two of you stuff your old outfit in the satchel. the surfacer ties its string around it once more. however, as he’s about stand up to leave, he hesitates.

“you’ve been down here for a while,” he says. “haven’t you wanted to see the world out there at all?”

you shrug. truth is, you have. more than anything. but you know that it’s impossible right now. 

the surfacer stares down at the satchel for a moment. he then reaches out to the bottle of firewhiskey, popping it open before taking a long sip. 

when he puts it back down, he looks right at you. “i think it’s about time that you take a peek.”

you pale at the thought of being found out now - this close to land. “i don’t think that’s a good idea.” 

“oh, c’mon,” the surfacer says. “you can’t go a whole voyage without being on deck once.”

“i was on deck when i first arrived,” you say, trying to stifle the curiosity blooming in your chest. 

the surfacer rolls his eyes. 

“i won’t force you to,” he says. “but need i remind you that no one saw you when you arrived? i think we can get away with a peek.” 

“i thought you were worried about losing your job,” you say, and the surfacer shrugs.

“it’s less of a concern at the moment,” he says. “are you in?” 

he stands up, holding his hand out for you to take it.

you know you shouldn’t. that it’s foolish; a needless risk. but there’s a determination in the surfacer’s eyes, and you realize that you trust him. that you believe in him. 

and so, you take his hand. 

he pulls you to your feet, and the two of you quietly leave the room - the surfacer holding on to the satchel.

beyond the door of the room is a staircase, going up to the deck. the surfacer leads the way and, as you follow him, you can hear the sound of the waves… louder than you have in days. and once you’re both on deck, the wind is in your hair and your heart feels so full, it’s as if it’s about to burst right out of your chest.

the moon shines above you; full and light. countless stars dot across the skies. they remind you of that night… that night when you were looking so very closely at the surfacer. a part of your mind quietly makes a note to research constellations more, sometime. 

“come on,” the surfacer says, and the two of you walk over to the edge of the ship. you forgot how large it actually is. the room you’ve spent your time in is so small

the sight of the sea is breathtaking. moonlight shines down upon its surface, its calm waves gently pushing the ship along in the night. it’s too dark to make out what lies on the horizon, but the mystery only adds to the sight’s appeal. the saltwater air is so refreshing. so new yet so familiar. your eyes burn.

“ready?” the surfacer asks, and you look over to him. he has the satchel in his hand, danging over the edge of the ship, and the way the wind makes his hair whip about his face makes you dizzy with emotion. 

you can’t even speak so you just nod and, just like that, the surfacer drops the satchel down into the sea. it hits the water down below with barely a splash. you both stare at it as it’s swallowed into the depths. 

it feels significant. like a true farewell to the past. 

the surfacer grabs onto your arm again, jerking his head towards the room you’ve been hiding away in. you nod at him once more and the two of you hurriedly head back below deck. back to the room filled with barrels of caught fish.

the surfacer closes the door behind you and you reflexively head to the corner that you first set yourself up in, plopping yourself down. the feeling of the wind upon your face, the sight of the moon and the stars and the sea and the deck and the everything… you’re getting more dizzy by the moment. 

you wonder: was that it? was that freedom? 

it’s intoxicating. mesmerizing. 

you grab the bottle of firewhiskey and knock a big gulp back. you still cough every time you do that, but it’s worth it.

“are you alright?” the surfacer asks, sitting next to you. 

“i’m fine,” you say. the moment was so short, yet so… wonderful. “thank you. i think i needed that.” you didn’t even know you did. 

“no problem,” the surfacer says. he then reaches into one of his pockets, digging around in there for something. “...here.” 

you hold your hand out and he drops a strange, blue object right in the middle of your palm. it seems to be wrapped in some sort of waxy paper. 

“you look a little shaken up,” he says. “whenever i’m shaken up, i eat one of those.”

you sniff at the object, and he chuckles. 

“you have to unwrap it,” he says. “like this.” he takes it again, twisting the paper’s edges so that whatever food is inside is freed. it falls back onto your palm.

it feels… sticky. “what is it?” you ask, examining it. 

“salt water taffy,” the surfacer says. “my favorite. it’s candy.”

candy?! you’ve obviously never had candy from the surface before. “were you hiding this from me?” 

the surfacer laughs. “listen! i had a very limited amount! i had to eat ‘em sparingly. didn’t buy all that much when we docked last time.” 

you smile and put the taffy in your mouth. 

it’s chewy. and kind of gooey, in a dry sort of way. salty, but still sweet. 

“this is amazing,” you say. “this is the best thing i’ve ever tasted!” 

“right? it’s incredible.” the surfacer seems proud.

“do you have any more?!” you’re hooked. 

the surfacer reaches into his pocket, pulling a few more pieces of the candy out. “these are the last of the batch.” he hands another piece to you and you immediately begin trying to unwrap it. 

the surfacer takes one of the candies, too - unwrapping it with ease. 

“i wasn’t planning on hanging out with any runaway tritons,” he continues. “if i knew what fate had in store for me, i would’ve bought more.” 

that’s right. soon, you’ll be apart from him. he’ll be heading back out to sea while you’ll be finding your footing on land. you’ve wanted this for so long - have given up so much for this. you don’t have second thoughts and you don’t have any regrets. 

but you will miss him. you’ll miss him a lot. sitting in this room with him; practicing walking with him. reading and talking and joking around. eating strange meals and drinking whiskey. 

“maybe someday, we can eat more together,” you say. “i can even buy them for you. to pay you back for everything you’ve done for me.” 

the surfacer laughs. 

“you know what?” he says. “i’d like that. i’d really like that.” 


v.


you’re absolutely covered in fish. 

you shift around. they’re very slimy. very uncomfortable, too. 

the surfacer came up with a plan: upon docking, he’d smuggle you out of the ship and into town via one of the ship’s fish barrels. that way, none of his crewmates would see you… and you’d finally make it to land. 

finally.

of course, every single one of the ship’s barrels was essentially stuffed full of fish. selecting the most empty one - without having the luxury of a trial-and-error process, thanks to the magic seals on the barrels themselves - was quite a feat. you’re not sure if you and the surfacer were entirely successful in choosing the best barrel… but you sure did knock on a lot of them; pressing your ears against each one, searching for the one that sounded the emptiest. also... getting inside the barrel? quite the ordeal. 

at any rate, you’re on land, now - being lugged along by the surfacer. he’s surprisingly strong, but you guess that’s to be expected of a sailor. you can hear the bustle of people outside, yelling and laughing and shouting even though it’s still so very early. 

the surfacer eventually sets your barrel down, tugging off its lid. 

he stares down at you. “how do i get myself into these situations?” 

“it’s a bit late to be asking that, now,” you quip, and he laughs as he helps you out of the barrel. 

the process goes a bit wrong and the entire thing ends up falling over. a bunch of fish spill out onto the cobblestone path of the alleyway. your satchel - which holds your spellbook and your shell from home - falls, too. 

“it’s fine.” the surfacer bends down to retrieve your fallen satchel. “it’s normal to find fish in random places when it comes to port towns. trust me.”

you can’t really focus on that, though. not when you’re entirely overwhelmed by how solid everything feels. 

this is land. beneath your feet, there’s… no movement. nothing at all. there’s no ebb. no flow. you take a step forward, avoiding stepping on any of the fish. you also end up lurching forward, almost slamming right into the wall of the alleyway. luckily, the surfacer grabs your arm before you can make contact.

“see? i told you,” he says, handing you the satchel. “sea legs. land legs. it’s a real thing!” 

“it’s too still,” you say.

“you get used to it.” the surfacer does seem sympathetic. “one sec. wait here - and try not to puke.” a pause. “unless you need to puke. in which case, puke away.” he grabs onto the barrel, wobbling along as he places it behind some large crates in the alleyway. 

you watch him while he does so, but you still feel like your legs are about to give out from under you. 

barrel hidden, the surfacer returns to your side quickly. “here. eat this.” he reaches into his pocket, holding out a single piece of salt water taffy.

you gape at him. “how?! i thought we ate all of them!”

“i’m always prepared,” he says. “plus, here’s a secret of mine.” he leans in close to you, brushing your hair back as to whisper in your ear. “salt water taffy cures everything.”

you’re amazed. you unwrap the candy, popping it in your mouth… and it does help. the now-familiar taste is grounding; its sweetness somehow stabilizes you. 

“is this candy made out of magic?” you ask.

“who knows? you can buy more yourself. remember: you owe me.” the surfacer grabs onto your arm again. “now, c’mon. it’s time to ditch all these fuckin’ fish.” 

“do you think your captain will notice?” you ask as he leads you out of the alleyway. “that this barrel is gone, i mean.” you’re surprised that the surfacer’s content to just abandon it. he truly is strange. 

“probably. she’ll probably just assume ruffians got to it or somethin’,” he says. “it happens. might make for an awkward visit at the tavern, later. the captain loves her fights…” a sigh. “it’s either that or she breaks some poor atemcesterian’s face for selling her a faulty seal, so we’ll be getting light carnage either way.” 

that’s not so bad, you guess.

as the two of you exit the alleyway, you take a moment to marvel at the sight of the port town before you. there are so many surfacers… more than you’ve ever seen before. people have all sorts of goods that they’ve brought in. some are even setting up small market stalls, their shiny trinkets and gems catching the light of the first rays of sunrise. 

speaking of the sunrise… you point up towards it. 

“the sun,” you say. “it’s so close.”

“you shouldn’t look right at it,” the surfacer says. “...you know, i’m worried about you all over again.”

“don’t be!” you lower your hand, smiling at him. “i’m fine. i’ve got my spells.” 

“if you say so,” the surfacer says. “guess now’s not the time for cold feet, anyways.” 

you don’t entirely understand what he means, but you do smile at a tiny surfacer girl who’s staring at you, wide-eyed, from across the street. she ducks behind a woman who’s with her, clearly shy.

“just promise me you’ll be careful,” the surfacer says; you shift your attention back to him. “i know you want to assume the good in people and all, but there’s… there’s bad people out there. seriously.” 

you shift, slinging your satchel over your shoulder. you know he’s right - you’re not that clueless. but you can’t think about the world like that. you have to believe that things will work out; that people are good. that they are kind. when you were locked away, that was the thought that kept you together. the thought of light beyond the dark. 

of course, you also know that the surfacer means well. so you smile at him. “i’ll be careful,” you say. “i promise. i’ll do my best.” 

the surfacer nods but doesn’t say anything. the two of you stand there for a moment. 

the docks are a ways off from here, but you still think of the ship. when you first boarded that vessel, your past loomed over you. it threatened to engulf you. however, you’ve realized that, with each passing day, more and more distance came  between you and everything that happened. favorable winds blew you further and further away from the confines of that room in the castle. and as you stand under the clear blue skies of this port town, you feel… 

free. 

“thank you for everything,” you tell the surfacer. 

“yeah. of course. thank you for making that voyage one to remember.” the surfacer smiles. “i hope you find the freedom you’re looking for.”

it’s as if he read your mind. 

you can’t think of anything to say in response. nothing has enough meaning. so you simply opt to run right into him, wrapping your arms around him in a tight hug. 

it reminds you of the night you met - when he agreed to help you. he was so alarmed, back then. now? he’s steady. an anchor in the middle of churning storm- waters. 

“gods. you smell like fish,” he says, laughing. 

“aren’t you used to it by now?” you grin against him.  

“oh, of course,” he replies. “didn’t i tell you? can’t be a sailor and not stomach the smell of fish.”

that gets you laughing, too. you part from him and he’s still smiling. 

“y’know, i never asked for your name,” he says.

it takes so much to not blurt it out. 

i’m reides. 

the urge wells up in your throat, threatening to spill. but the weight that accompanies the rest of your name - are you even a laverath, anymore? didn’t you bid farewell to that name? - keeps everything firmly sealed behind closed lips. 

“i figured that you have your reasons for not sharing it and all,” the surfacer continues; not giving you a chance to give into that urge. you manage to swallow it down. 

“yes. i… can’t tell you,” you say. “not yet.” it’s too risky. you don’t want harm to come to him. “i’m sorry.”

“it’s no big deal. you just can’t learn mine ‘till i get yours. got it?” the surfacer winks and it’s such a goofy sight that you almost laugh again. almost. “i’d like to learn it someday, though. and i’d like you to learn mine, too.” a pause. “so. you better run into me again, you hear?”

you grin. “i will. i’m sure of it.” 

“okay. then this isn’t a goodbye.” the surfacer sticks his hands into his pockets. “this is a… see you later.”

“right,” you say. “i’ll see you later.” 

the surfacer stares at you for a moment as if he has something else he’d like to say, but he apparently decides against it. instead, he smiles warmly. then he turns on his heel. without another word, he begins walking off in the direction of the docks - fading into the crowd so quickly that it startles you. 

you get an urge to chase after him, but you remember your purpose. you remember the promise you made to lotlyn. you wanted to see the surface; to travel and study. you’ve given up everything to realize this dream.

so you clutch your satchel a bit tighter. you turn around - away from the docks - and look up at that bright blue sky once more.

and you take a step forward. 

03. your birthday.


i. 

everyone in the kingdom knows your birthday. 

after all, you were born during that storm. 

everyone remembers that storm. everyone

and so, everyone knows your birthday. and your royal blood serves to add more complications to an inherently complicated day. it carries with it a certain significance that feels entirely out of your hands. as a child, you tried to grab onto it - but it always managed to evade you; to flit away in the deep sea waters and dissolve into nothingness. when your people talk of your birth, they speak of perseverance, of patience, of fortitude. of having the strength to wrench power out of a seemingly powerless situation. the bards still sing their songs about that night. they say you didn’t cry, not even when it seemed as if the kingdom would collapse all around your tiny form. they mean well, you know they do. but you also know that, on that night, you did cry. you were a brand-new baby and there was a storm - so of course you did! the first time you pointed this out, viglis called you an idiot, so you decided to stop commenting on those songs altogether. 

again: it’s entirely out of your hands. 

sometimes, you feel as if being born was the best thing you ever did for your family. for your people. and it wasn’t even something you did. it was something that happened to you. something that you had no say in. 

but you’re glad that you were born. 

even if you really, really hate those songs. 

ii.

you’re beneath several layers of very expensive fabric. 

the cloak is a gigantic, garish thing, woven together by a who-knows-how-many people. you feel more uncomfortable in it than anything you’ve ever worn before. it’s out to swallow you whole, those whirling dark blues and pure whites making you so dizzy that you can’t look at it for long.

you turn away from the mirror. “is this it, then?”

you know the answer before your attendant shakes his head. 

a crown is brought in, carried by one of the laverathian knights, secured in a translucent chest. it’s fashioned out of coral and quartz and long, pointed shells - with each year, the design only seems to become more complicated. 

you frown as more attendants swarm, somehow being pushy while also treating you as if you’re made of glass. they swim around you, as you mustn’t turn or kneel or bow your head, not to them. as if you care for such pointless formalities. your hair is slicked back and braided into a traditional triton style that takes far too long to get right. strings of pearls are tied into it. you don’t feel real. 

you’re half-asleep when the crown is freed from its case. it weighs heavy on your head, and even if you aren’t heir to the throne, so do the duties of a prince. you’re expected at banquets and gatherings and meetings. expected to train and expected to know all about what’s going on with the nobles, all the time. you once met those expectations. now you find a certain delight in evading them. 

but you can’t evade today. it’s inescapable. you realized at a very young age that your birthday doesn’t belong to you. that doesn’t make any of this easier. 

you’re ready, now. dressed. swimming is difficult and your crown almost slips right off several times while you make your way to the banquet hall. knights are at your sides, and you can hear the bards singing their songs - echoes of their voices ricocheting off palace walls. 

as you approach the door - large and ornate and looming over you - a knot forms in your throat. 

you hate this.

iii.

“the storm prince, at it again.”

you glare at your brother, seated at your side. unlike you, viglis suits triton ceremony. his cloak does not swallow him and his crown is light upon his head; its grandiosity held up effortlessly. 

“i didn’t do anything,” you say.

“i know,” viglis replies. “that’s my point.” he looks away from you, clearly unwilling to elaborate.

the storm prince. yet another title you’ve grown to dislike, as those around you only use it when they mean to point out your flaws. not only is it yet another quip at your birthdate, but storms are dangerous. they bring turmoil and change. you know that many of the nobles gossip about you - the pomp and circumstance of tradition and appearances covering up their more sinister opinions, whispered to each other in the dark. you dream of someday taking the title away from them; of being the storm prince for all the right reasons. but the nobles’ gossip seeps under you skin like poison. 

at least viglis respects you enough to criticize you to your face. 

you glance around the banquet, weary. dhudus is with the other young boys. he’s become the natural leader of their group - a stark contrast to how you were when you were his age. your mother is socializing, as well, and in her arms is baby lotlyn, wrapped in a bundle of blankets and dozing comfortably. you find yourself jealous: you wish you could doze this entire day away, too. as for your father… he sits beside viglis, his expression unreadable yet alert. he commands authority even when silent; draws attention by merely existing. his speech about your birthday - delivered earlier in the day - drew in thunderous applause. 

the scenery is so familiar that it makes you queasy. you need to do something; you need to move. so you rise from your seat, making sure not to look back at viglis or your father and instead placing focus on keeping your crown properly balanced upon your head.

you swim around the hall and the nobles cast smiles your way. they laugh and they reach out to you, and if you didn’t know any better you’d think they were truly here to see you. you manage to smile, to laugh, to talk with them, too - but the entire thing is so soulless that it makes you want to scream. and the hollowness of these interactions - the nobles aren’t all to blame. no; you are, too. your smile is fake, your laugh is fake, what you speak of is fake. you aren’t training to become a paladin like viglis. you aren’t attending the next banquet. you aren’t interested in your title. you cried your eyes out during that storm, twenty years ago. was it always like this? is something wrong with you? are you going crazy? why are you so unhappy

no answers come to you. 

you just need to leave. you need to leave right now. 

but you can’t. you have to wait for viglis’ attentions to be elsewhere - because you know he will find great issue with you leaving; you know he will force you to stay. only when he’s talking to some noblewoman do you swim towards the door. your father likely sees you slip away but he doesn’t stop you. he’s accustomed to this sort of thing from you. the storm prince. people will talk: you’re proving their gossip right. yet as much as that title bothers you, you don’t care about any of that right now.

maybe you are the storm prince after all.

iv.

you tear your hair free from the braids. strings of pearls now undone, they scatter in the water around you and slowly drift to the floor. the cloak falls from your shoulders and you let out a shaky sigh.

the crown rests on your bedside table. its casing is elsewhere; you told your attendant that you needed to be alone. you almost wish that he refused to leave you as such. almost. 

you sit on your bed and cover your face with your hands. you don’t know how anyone can stand those banquets. is it a matter of maturity? you’re twenty years old, now. that should be mature enough, right? you think about it more and decide against this logic. you sincerely hope you won’t grow to be the type of person who finds delight in fake company and fake smiles. 

the sea beyond your bedroom window is golden: it will be dark, soon. you rummage through your belongings, taking out a new outfit altogether. you change into garb befitting of a commoner, pulling a worn-down hood over your head as to conceal your true identity. you grab your spellbook and are quick to set off.

you’ve escaped from the castle on countless occasions. you’ve mastered the route by now - or perhaps the guards simply choose to look the other way. regardless of the technicalities, you manage to slip away. 

you swim towards the sunset. 

v.

you are beyond the kingdom and can finally breathe.

you’re too tired to explore any shipwrecks; too overwhelmed to search for any surface treasures. instead, you swim towards a particular cave. you discovered its whereabouts while collecting shells as a child - during one of your first escapades beyond the castle, in fact. you’re certain that you’re the only person in the sea who knows about it. you’ve visited so often that you suspect you can find it with your eyes closed. the trick to it is that its entrance is hidden - buried away under a thick layer of seaweed. it’s simple for you to navigate though, of course, and you’re able to pass through with ease. 

entering the cave feels like arriving home. you’re finally safe - hidden away from the kingdom’s judgemental eyes and prying hands. you drift over to a large, flat rock, placing your spellbook at its side and resting upon it.

today, you’re a year older. you don’t feel different than you did yesterday. not that you were expecting to. you were dreading this day for weeks and now it’s finally over with… for the most part. just thinking about the tight braids and heavy crown makes you feel like you’re going to be ill, so you instead you close your eyes and try to clear your mind. 

and suddenly, you feel something. 

it’s against your thigh. you open your eyes, reaching down for it - curious. at first, you think it’s another rock - probably one that drifted down from the cave’s ceiling earlier, that you simply hadn’t noticed before. however, as you bring it closer to you, you realize that it’s not a rock at all. no, it’s… from the surface. one of your various surface treasures. you take most back with you to the palace, but sometimes end up storing a few of the less impressive ones in various locations like this cave. 

it’s a rusted metal thing with a cracked-up glass front. a strange arrow is beneath the glass. you prod at it through one of the cracks with your finger but it doesn’t so much as budge. you think it was once a compass… but you’re not entirely sure. whatever was written beneath the glass is now smudged away; lost to the sea. the compasses that your people use aren’t nearly so fragile. they can certainly withstand saltwater. 

you lie back down on the rock, pressing the broken compass against your chest. your mind wanders - what kind of surfacer used this compass? was it lost to the sea through a careless mistake, or did its owner meet an untimely fate? you hope that they’re okay, wherever they are. and you’re sorry for taking their compass. but you think they wouldn’t want it now, anyways. there’s no use taking a broken compass around with you during your adventures. perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but you truly feel as if they’re still out there. seeing great things - sailing the seas and exploring whatever the surface world has to offer. 

and you remember that night - that night where you met surfacers, for the first time. you remember the way they laughed and told stories together. you remember feeling exhilarated and warm and free and alive

someday, you will find your way out of laverathia. and it won’t be temporary - it won’t be like these secret little trips you undertake when no-one is watching. no, you’ll truly find your way outside. you’ll see great things and maybe even go to the surface on your own. you’ll make friends and people will smile at you for being you. not for your title. not for your blood. not for being the storm prince. they’ll smile at you for being reides. 

you open your eyes, and you sit up. carefully, you place the compass back on the rock. 

a part of you wants to leave right now. to swim far into the seas and never go back to the palace. but even if the crown is off your head and cloak is not on your shoulders, the duties of a prince remain heavy. 

someday, you’ll have a birthday celebration that makes you happy to be alive. genuinely happy.

and you’ll keep going - keep living - for the sake of that future.  

04. your strength.


it bears being said: you have taken life before. 

in self-defense, mind you. but it counts. less-than-pleasant creatures settle in the sea - as do pleasant creatures who are simply looking for their next meal. naturally, you weren’t exactly keen on becoming anyone’s supper… no matter how lovely they would’ve been with a full belly. you quickly understood the notion of it’s me or you. when you couldn’t swim away fast enough, your frost always protected you. 

but you never really hunted, did you? well, that’s not entirely your fault. your brother would shove a sword in your hand and that would be the end of that. 

you think of him and smile, though the expression is devoid of joy; more wry than anything else. it’s been weeks since you last saw him - since you last saw any of them. you sometimes wonder what they must say. the princeling born of a storm: so smothered that he tore his own life apart. that suits you just fine. that life never fit you, anyway. your regalia comes to mind - bulky and cumbersome; perpetually weighing you down until you finally cast it aside. they must deem you naive for all you’ve done. selfish, too. and maybe they’re right. but you realized a long time ago that no one truly understands how the world looks from your eyes. and as you stand with solid earth beneath your feet, you realize that this will somehow end up becoming your strength. 

you get accustomed to the way the surfacers stare at you, and, sometimes, you find yourself staring at them, too. you suppose you can’t quite say you’re no one to them - you stick out like a sore thumb and gave up on trying to conceal yourself within hours of docking at the port. and yet: you’re not reides aurelian yon-zinthos kien-khavas laverath. you’re not the storm prince. you’re titleless. nameless. and the people who ask for your name don’t necessarily get to hear it. you walk and you read and you drink. you write and you discover and you drift. at times, things are so interesting that you feel as if your heart will burst. the words from the surfacer on the ship are still in your head, of course. a mantra, an anchor: there’s bad people out there. it’s obvious, yet still you put your faith in the kindness of strangers. 

when one such stranger mentions brigands, lurking about the outskirts of the port - robbing innocents of their funds or their lives or their funds and their lives - you find yourself thinking. she’s willing to pay to have them dealt with and you could do with some money, you suppose. but more than that: this place has been good to you. you’ve done small jobs here and there to make ends meet, and this is just another type of job, isn’t it? the way the stranger’s face lights up when you agree to help dispels any reservations you may have about the situation. she says it means a lot; that her sister lost a cherished family heirloom to one of those ruffians. a necklace. a string of pearls. better to lose that than her life, the stranger prattles on, but you can’t hear her anymore. lotlyn comes to the forefront of your mind. 

you suppose you’re in for it, now.

you search and you ask questions. port valor isn’t exactly the safest place, despite how light on your feet it’s made you feel as of late. you wonder if you’ll end up taking down the wrong group of people on more than one occasion; it’s a very possible outcome. from what you gather, the brigands in question don’t seem particularly special but their operation is erratic. they strike in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night, from one place or another - only showing themselves to those who can’t defend themselves. it makes them hard to pin down, and the guards seem to have bigger things to worry about than run-of-the-mill bandits. you manage to find some of their victims and learn that there’s only a handful of them. three or four nondescript humans who could be just about anyone, really... save for one man who’s supposedly got a sharp golden tooth, so large that it’s always peeking right out of his mouth. 

it’s as good a lead as any. 

you truly hit the mark when you meet someone who knows them. knows where they reconvene - where they rest their heads when they’re not holding up innocents. it’s ideal, really, and you meet everything he says with a large share of enthusiasm. he’s a sailor, heading out of port soon, and is no stranger to combat. we’ll make quick work of them, he says. couldn’t do it on my own, but you’ll be more than enough help. and you think of how happy the woman will be when you tell her that you managed to get those pearls back. 

maybe if you ask them nicely, they’ll kindly pack up their operation and head elsewhere. reform. take up some sort of profession that doesn’t feature quite this level of criminal activity. you bring up the option to the sailor and he looks at you a bit funny - laughs in a strained sort of way as he directs you down an alleyway. it’s dark and smells of piss and puke. not exactly an ideal place to rest. 

you’re about to comment on this when you’re shoved so hard, you lose your breath - and your footing. a hand covers your mouth and an arm grips you in place. 

it vaguely occurs to you that you probably asked the locals too many questions. 

there’s bad people out there.

you writhe and you elbow and, you, ultimately, bite - and the man’s grip loosens on you as a stream of colourful swears pours from his mouth. you hit the ground, the metallic taste of blood strong on your tongue. you spit, backing up as you reach for your spellbook. you hear voices; other voices. 

oi! the hells are ya doin’?!”

the plan was to lure him in and - oh, blight it all!”

the man - who wasn’t a sailor at all, you suppose - is clutching his hand. 

the - that thing, he fuckin’ — he bit me!”

you’re on your feet, spellbook in hand. and, sure enough, three more men have appeared from the depths of the piss-and-puke alleyway. you don’t know if it’s the group in question - not until you see the light of the moon catch on the face of one of them. the tooth; the golden tooth. 

they’ve set you up, and you realize:

you’re stupid. 

but that’s okay, because you’ve finally managed to find them. 

i’ll do more than bite you,” you say, and it’s such a strange threat that you almost laugh. the unmistakable glint of a blade catches your eye, though, so you decide against making conversation. instead, you’ll let one of your spells do the talking. 

magic isn’t quite the same, up here on the surface. ice doesn’t come to your fingertips quite as easily as it did back in the depths of the sea. yet it feels sharper, somehow. more distinct. your mind clears and you draw water out from the air around you. it was always there, you think. just not able to be seen as clearly. you help it to be seen. it helps to protect you. an even trade. 

the shard forms and you waste no time. you direct it towards the man who deceived you; who grabbed you. the ice tears into his legs easily and he screams out in pain - falling to the ground. and the shard shatters, sending sharp splinters into those behind him. 

those three cry out, too. but they don’t fall. one lunges at you, and you dive out of the way - the movement more reflexive than anything else. another takes a swing at you with his sword. the blade is too bright for these surroundings; too well-maintained. it was stolen, you figure. at least that probably means he doesn’t know how to use it all that well. it’s a hypothesis with instant support: you’re able to dodge the swing, too. 

yet the gold-toothed man rushes towards you and you’re not quick enough to avoid him. he slams into you and you’re launched backwards, hitting the ground so hard that you lose your breath and - for a moment - can’t seem to remember how to find it. 

but you remember your magic. you remember the ice. and that’s good enough. 

you don’t bother with ice knife. rather, something more familiar comes to you. you whisper those words you know well and white-blue light overflows from you. frost spills, engulfing the ruffian with the overly-fancy blade. he becomes sluggish, leaning against the alleyway wall - and you know he’s not going to draw that blade against you again. 

his companion panics; he lunges for you once more. but he’s still not quick enough; you roll out of the way and that’s that. 

they really don’t seem to know what they’re doing. not for the most part, at least. it’s no wonder that they only targeted defenseless people. 

you fish-freak,” the gold-toothed man grumbles, and you wonder if he’s their leader. he’s certainly bulkier than them - muscular and scarred, with oddly wild eyes. “i’ll make you wish you were back in the fuckin’ sea.” 

you’re still not up on your feet and he’s bringing his fists down on you. there’s a spike of emotion in your chest. it’s an emotion with heat and hesitance and desperation: you’re quick to identify it as fear. the blow should connect. yet - through your fear - you hold up your hand, and magical energy enshrouds you. it shields you; keeps you safe. 

and it disorients him. 

what -” 

you take advantage of his confusion and find your confidence once more. these odds weren’t so great from the start… but they’re getting better. you form another shard of ice and send it towards the gold-toothed ruffian. 

this time, you don’t take aim. this time, you’re backed into a corner. and everything you’ve been through in your life thus far serves to prove that you don’t do too well when backed into corners. 

your ice knife pierces right through his chest - sends him reeling backwards. he clutches at the gaping wound as he falls, words coming out of his mouth in an incoherent garble before drowning out in silence. his blood looks more like ink in the moonlight. 

splinters of ice hit the remaining ruffian. he’s bleeding, too; his breathing has gone ragged. he stares at you  as you stand once more. wide-eyed. incredulous. you knocked out two of his companions and killed the other. 

you were targeted. underestimated. that much is obvious. 

i think it’s about time you stopped living like this,” you say, and your voice doesn’t sound like it belongs to you. your hands are shaking, gripping your spellbook tightly. but you don’t think that the man can tell how hesitant you are. 

still: he isn’t in any position to complain - and he doesn’t. 

he nods, frantic, before shoving right past you and scrambling out of the alleyway… running so fast that he almost trips over his own feet. should you be trying to stop him? you know that the surviving brigands likely face a prison sentence, at best. they deserve it, but you remember being locked away and fear wells up in your throat. 

this isn’t the time to think about that. 

there’s bad people out there.

you decide against giving chase.

you’re not sure how long you stand there - in that disgusting alleyway that smells of puke and piss and, now, blood. you don’t regret what you’ve done. it was them or you, and you weren’t about to meet your end in a gross place like this. especially not by the hands of people who would treat others with such cruelty. 

but it feels... different, somehow. taking the life of a person - it’s far different than taking the life of a creature, deep in the sea. you breathe in; breathe out. 

everything’s fine, now.

everything’s fine. 

you don’t look at the gold-toothed man’s corpse, but you give the other two bandits a cursory glance. they’re out cold but are definitely still breathing. 

and maybe it’s foolish - maybe you should be finding the guards - but you walk past the bandits. you head down the alleyway until you meet its dead end. you’ve come too far to not satisfy your own curiosity, now. the space is littered with empty bottles and other bits of rubbish. some sacks are strewn haphazardly about. none are full, but, as you peek inside of one, a string of pearls stares back up at you. 

seems like you found the stolen items. or, at least, the ones that weren’t sold off. 

you think of the kind stranger and her sister as you tug the sacks over your shoulders. 

the guards deal with the alleyway. there’s no big ceremony to it - for them, it’s just another day on the job. they take the stolen goods, including the sword that the brigand tried to slash you with. however, you offer to return the string of pearls to the woman. after all, she’s the reason why you got caught up in this. the guards are hesitant to trust you, at first, but end up giving in. 

apparently, you’re actually quite okay at talking to people.

you meet the woman again the following morning. she’s slack-jawed when she sees you and looks like she’ll pass clean out when you hand her the string of pearls. they’re in remarkable condition, considering that they’re on the surface and not in the deep sea. you think of the gatherers back in laverathia who’d harvest these for your family; of the pearls that adorn your now-abandoned crown. those shone brighter - looked stronger - but the woman holds her family heirloom in her hands as if it’s the most valuable thing that this world has to offer. 

that definitely counts for something. 

she’s grateful; admits that she didn’t think you’d be able to pull any of this off. says her sister’s bound to weep with joy. you’re paid and the two of you drink a bit too much firewhiskey. it burns your tongue and you laugh until your stomach hurts. everything that happened last night - the hands that clamped around your mouth, the ink-black blood in the moonlight, the fear - it all melts away in the warmth of the tavern. 

you need to become stronger if you want to survive up here on the surface. on your own; far away from your people. you need to learn how to protect that which matters to you, no matter the cost. even if your hands shake. because for all the bad people out there, there’s certainly good people, too. tons of them. 

and good people shouldn’t suffer. not if you have any say in it.

05. your becoming.


the surface changes you.

it’s a slow process, really, but it’s not as slow as one might think. 

with each passing day, the tension in your shoulders lessens. memories of your life under ocean waters slowly sink into the deep recesses of your mind. your visits to that locked room - courtesy of nightmares bred out of paranoia (they’re coming for you, they’re coming for you) - become less and less frequent. 

the sun shines above you, and it is so close, and it feels so good

you consider wearing a hood, or perhaps a mask. you consider changing your name. but it feels like you’ve spent your whole life hiding. why should you hide more, now? the clothes you wear on your back now are, technically, stolen. and yet they belong to you more than your armor ever did. 

oh, your armor; cast into the maw of the sea. you wonder where it is now. perhaps it’s in pieces. broken like the waves that crash upon the shore that you now find solace in. or perhaps it sits there, at the bottom of the ocean… collecting muck and grime like the shipwrecks you once explored. abandoned regalia for an abandoned title. you couldn’t find it, not even if you wanted to. 

you suppose it doesn’t matter. not anymore. 

your hair grows wilder. you don’t bother with cutting it until you absolutely must (it gets in the way, after all). you like how the sea-breeze runs through it. you keep it long and free; waves of green. 

the people of port valor are a boisterous sort. there’s no time for empty platitudes with this lot. whispers of the storm prince end at the ocean’s surface. no one bows their head to you as you go by, no one sneers at you for being unbecoming. the feeling of a stranger’s confused gaze upon you never really goes away, but you get used to it quickly. you can’t really blame them. most have never even heard of your people. 

they can look all they want. there’s no need to hide anything. 

at least, that’s what you keep telling yourself. 

you know you’ll need gold if you want to survive on the surface. luckily for you, there’s no shortage of work in port valor. 

at first, you stick as close to the docks as possible - because, despite it all, you still love the sea. with all your heart. but it turns out that lugging around crates for ships is certainly not your calling. one of the more experienced dockhands goes red in the face yelling at you for dropping something that’s supposedly fragile, and that incident brings your crate-carrying career to a screeching halt. it’s no big loss, you decide, and you flit away to the next task. 

fishing reminds you of your friend (that half-elf with the scar on his cheek who you’ve yet to see again, who you still don’t even know the name of - but who you think of every time firewhiskey burns the back of your throat, every time the salty-sweetness of taffy spreads on your tongue); you decide to try it out. it’s a lot more tricky than you thought it’d be, that’s for sure. generally speaking, surfacers deal with the sea in cumbersome ways that leave you rather incredulous. even the ones who sing seemingly-constant praise of eadro hold it at arm’s length. you suppose the whole not-being-able-to-breathe-underwater thing is the reason why.  and so you resort to rather unconventional means of helping the local fishers. forsaking their rods and hooks, you leap off the side of their boats, net in hand as you vanish into the ocean’s waters. needless to say, the fishers are always delighted to see you asking around for something to do at the docks… even if fish outswim you more often than you’d like to admit.  

however, if you wanted to limit yourself to catching fish, you would’ve just stayed in aquos. there’s a lot to do in port valor and you don’t intend to get stuck doing one thing every day. 

the first time you walk into the library in the mercantile district, you feel so overwhelmed that you need to go back outside and simply sit for a while. all of those books, all about the surface… you don’t have to settle for scraps of knowledge sent back from a handful of triton scholars or the gossip of seafarers. not anymore. 

you spend hours upon hours reading tome after tome, and are pleased to learn that you’re very well-suited to work that puts your mind to use. scribe work appeals to you greatly, and you find much delight in covering the subjects that most surfacers would regard as dull. subjects like varieties of paper, or regional tax forms… you’re eager to learn about it all - much to the librarians’ amusement. you spend so much time in that library that you may as well be living in it. 

there’s another library, apparently - over in the upper district. unfortunately, you don’t particularly want to go to the upper district. you take to nobility like water to oil, and the thought of hiding certain books away to the public disgusts you beyond words. (your father was like that, too. hiding things away. always hiding things away. you should know. you were one of those things, were you not?) someday, you’ll read those books, but you’ll do so on your own terms. terms that don’t involve grovelling under some magistrate. you don’t want to be poked and prodded. 

when all else fails, you turn your attention to random odd jobs. the people looking this sort of help don’t poke, nor do they prod. they don’t care where you’ve come from. many don’t even care what your name is, or that you’re distinctly unlike anyone else in the city. all they want is someone to get their work done, and you’re happy to oblige, for the most part. 

some of these jobs are a bit more suspicious than others. drop off a package in this alleyway; don’t let anyone see its contents. hand a cloaked woman a vial filled with a bright green liquid. knock five times on a door and receive a sealed letter, which you then deliver to someone else. others are very simple, though curiously specific. pick up thirteen pink dresses from a specific tailor. feed a pet bat for its owner while he’s away. and then there are some people who just want some help with their day-to-day life; their run-of-the-mill errands. 

you try to stay away from the jobs that involve bloodshed, but you often don’t have much of a say in the matter. the words of your friend echo in your head, time and time again: there’s bad people out there. and so, if an innocent is being targeted, or if one of their cherished possessions has been stolen, you have no qualms with stepping in, spellbook in hand. you’d rather not kill, but you soon learn that, sometimes, people don’t particularly value their lives. sometimes, they want to rob you of your life. sometimes, things can’t be as nice as you’d like them to be. sometimes, you can’t be as nice as you’d like to be.

you get by.

you spend your more quiet hours on the shoreline - collecting various shells that found their way to it. a woman sees you plucking them out of the sand one day and offhandedly tells you that you should try selling them - or even making jewelry out of them. you string a necklace together and dream of your mother all night long. 

staying put in one place unnerves you - turns out you can’t shake off the impulse to keep moving - so you don’t really have a set residence. you drift between inns that’ll have you - beds that’ll have you - and always, always pack light. 

you have a lot of books, though.

books and quills and ink. so much ink. you write and you draw and you can’t stop thinking about how vast the world is. how limitless. you always knew that the world beyond laverathia was a wonderful place, and port valor has proven that - even with its many, many less-than-savory aspects. you’ll need to leave, someday. you know that. but weeks pass by and - while the sights around you become relatively familiar - you’re still busy; still finding new things to do. so you decide to see where time will take you. to coast along rather than force a current.

you make many friends, though these encounters are serendipitous and fleeting. names are rarely exchanged and, when they are, they’re often forgotten. lost upon the sea-breeze; floating off to distant ports in the blink of an eye. still - you share drinks with sailors, you laugh along with merchants, you play games with the children who hang around the docks. you learn so much about people. so much more than you ever did when you lived in the deep.

and yet, you wonder. perhaps you could have learnt about them. perhaps you could have learned more about people. not about those of the surface, but, rather, your people. perhaps - if your crown didn’t weigh so heavily upon your shoulders. if you were stronger; strong enough to not crack under the weight of it all. your interest in the surface was something akin to a fixation. 

it meant freedom from everything that held you under.

you know that your people are a proud sort. intelligent and caring and strong; strong beyond words. you love them, even if they see you as the storm prince. even if they will never understand why you needed to leave laverathia. even if they hate you. 

you love them.

you sit in a tavern and you watch the surfacers dance and laugh and sing, and you know that you’re not the only triton who would enjoy this. what’s the point of hiding an entire kingdom away? of keeping all you know to yourself? of limiting yourself to the sea and only the sea? the surfacers don’t even know the god that your people pray to. but it’s not like your people know the gods whom the surfacers pray to. 

it’s all so confusing. the politics of it. the fear of it. the way so much of it is shrouded in secrecy. none of it makes sense. if you think about it for too long, you feel sick. like you’ll crack all over again. and you can’t - not again. you don’t have an escape if you do. this is the freedom you wanted. you’re on the surface, now, and you’re making the most of it. just like you promised lotlyn. 

you miss her. 

you miss the way she’d laugh along with you and how she’d listen to your stories about all the things you scavenged from shipwrecks. you miss the way she’d pester you - how she’d nag at you endlessly, demanding that you hand over some of your treasures. they’re all hers, now, you think to yourself, and it brings a wry little smile to your face. 

you miss your sister so much. 

truth be told, you miss them all.

your mother. your father. despite the distance. despite the disapproval. despite the cruelty. it’s not that you’ve forgiven them for what they put you through. you just… miss them. the nightmares wash away, leaving an odd fragility behind. it’s a fragility you don’t want to acknowledge. 

you miss your brothers, too. 

you never really understood dhudus - your younger brother. you remember the sight of him training for hours on end, whacking away at dummies with his sword. he’d skip lessons as often as you would, though you couldn’t possibly be any more different from each other. should you have tried harder to reach him? does he even care that you’re gone? he certainly dealt with being royalty far better than you ever did, though his blunt personality earned him a reputation for being distant. (maybe you’re not as different as you thought.) 

and then there’s viglis. 

if viglis ever felt pressured by his lineage, he certainly never showed it. the best of the best. everyone’s favorite warrior-prince. if anyone is to drag you back into the sea, it’s him. with his shining armor and terrible attitude. always too harsh. always too dismissive. always too… honorable. but, by persana, does he love laverathia. he’ll be a good king. that much is obvious. you miss him as much as you want him to leave you alone. 

you don’t know why you’re thinking about your family. 

maybe all of this is just the firewhiskey’s influence. 

maybe you need to go. 

you stumble out of the tavern and into the night, head spinning with thoughts of a place you don’t want to think about. eyes drifting to the sky, you feel like you can reach out and pluck the stars right out of it. you try. you fail. and someone laughs.

“oh? an appreciator of the stars, are you?” there’s a certain gruffness to their voice. a frequenter of the docks, no doubt.  “not that i blame you. it’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?”

you turn to them, and - you’ve never seen anyone like them before. very tall and decidedly draconic, metal rings are pierced into the pronounced ridge of their brow. more rings loop around their horns, as well, and their bronze scales have swirling patterns of dark ink imprinted upon them. 

just when you thought you had this place relatively figured out, it surprises you all over again.

“what, never seen a dragonborn before?”

still overtly astonished, you nod. is this how most surfacers feel when they see you for the first time? it’s a good thing you never really took offense to their stares.

luckily, the dragonborn doesn’t seem to take offense to your stare, either. “ha! i know your kind. you’re a triton, aye?”

you nod again.

“well, it probably pales in comparison to that sky, but i think i have something you’d like, triton.”

they pull something from the pocket of their cloak. in the palm of their taloned hand is… a small star.

you blink. “how did you - ?!”

the dragonborn laughs again. “gods, it’s not a real one! please tell me you’re not that drunk!”

oh. of course it’s not real. it’s an accessory of some sort. you laugh, too. perhaps too hard, but it feels good to laugh. especially after the sort of night you were beginning to have. 

“not sure if you’d find much use for it, though. it’s meant for your navel.” 

“my navel?” 

the dragonborn nods. “aye. and if you’re wondering why someone’s lurking around in the dead of night with navel piercings stashed away in their cloak - i’d like you to know that i was just heading back to my shop.” 

the dragonborn is still holding the star out, so you take it as to get a better look at it. it’s bright gold in colour and sparkling away just like the real thing. no wonder you thought it was real.  “you sell them, then?” 

“i do more than just sell them,” the dragonborn says, smirking. “the name’s needlepoint. needle for short. the best piercer and tattooist you’ll ever find in port valor. or, dare i say, in the entirety of alethustria.” 

“would you pierce me, then?” you blurt out. “so i can wear the star.”

needle’s (pierced) brow rises. “now? as in… tonight?” 

tonight.” 

they look you up and down. “i could. though, speaking as an artisan, it’d reflect poorly on me, seeing as you’re very much out of your skull at the moment.” 

you stare at them, confused. 

they sigh. “drunk, triton. you’re drunk.” 

“i’m not,” you say, though you know that you are and, apparently, look the part, too. “i want this. i do.” 

“if i got a piece of gold every time some poor drunk sod told me they wanted some work done then regretted it the day after, i’d…” they pause, a thoughtful look passing over their features. “...have no extra gold, actually. because i’ve never listened to the demands of poor drunk sods.” 

you frown, looking down at the star. you’re attached to it now. it’s a shame to have it and not be able to wear it. especially since it was a gift from someone so very interesting. 

perhaps needle can tell just how disappointed you are, as their hands suddenly clamp down on your shoulders. “listen, triton,” they say. “keep the star. when you wake tomorrow, if you still want that work done - and you’re not too hung over - i’d be happy to pierce you. deal?” 

they tell you about their shop - the inked anchor. it’s close to the docks that you frequent; one of the many establishments that you hadn’t found your way to just yet. you commit it to memory despite the haze that the firewhiskey has left you in.

when you finally make your way back to your bed, when you finally sleep, you dream of the sea. of its surface, reflecting the light of the stars above. and when you open your eyes, the first thing you see is that little star resting on your pillow. 

before you’re even fully awake, you’re out the door, star in hand - making your way to the docks.

this is another way in which you’re changing, isn’t it? there are piercers and tattooists in laverathia, too. body modification isn’t frowned upon in triton society - not at all. still, you wonder what your family would think about you wearing accessories crafted by the hands of surfacers. you wonder if they even know of the dragonborn. if you didn’t, they probably don’t. 

needle pierces you as promised, laughing all the while. “not many can say they’ve pierced a triton,” they muse. when you tell them of all the ways your people work with shells, they’re intrigued. the next time you pay a visit to the inked anchor, you walk in with two shells and leave with two shell earrings. 

you visit them infrequently but often enough. not to get any more work done, however, as you can’t quite settle on a tattoo design. perhaps you simply find comfort in how different the two of you are from everyone else. you tell them your name - reides - and they still call you triton. you don’t mind. 

the surface has changed you, that much is true. you’ve changed a great deal during your time in port valor - in the ways you think and in the ways you look. but you’re still a triton. you’re still reides. storm prince or not, you’re you. and you’re proud of that.

you will always be proud of that.

you sit at the water’s edge, watching the tide come in. you hope that you’ll continue to change in all of the right ways. that you’ll continue to learn. to heal and to grow. and you hope that you’ll live your life the way you’ve always wanted to. 

to its fullest. 

and maybe, someday, the people you love will, in turn, love the person that you have become. 

06. your duty.


i. 

the life of an adventurer isn’t easy. 

so many creatures are downright eager to tear you limb from limb. and your surfacer friend wasn’t joking when he warned you of bad people. you’ve certainly met your fair share of those. 

but you never expected any of this to be easy, did you?

you’ve always harbored a turmoil. a sense of needing to go, of needing to run. if you settled down and sought peace… well, with the way you’ve been living, it’d feel like a lie. there’s a reason why you only lasted a year in port valor. you’ve acted on impulse for as long as you can remember. the storm prince, indeed. you once hated that title; now, you see the truth in it. storms carry a multitude of meanings amongst your people. above all, they promise change. 

and, in your experience, most tritons don’t like change. 

while your father never gave chase, the fury in his eyes stuck to you and followed you up to the surface. you see it in everything that has ever raised a hand against you. 

however, there is always hope, and that is what keeps you going.  

you learn. you learn so much. the pages of your journal are crammed full of drawings and notes. for every creature that tried to kill you, there are dozens of wonderful ones. even the ones that have tried to brutally murder you have taught you so very much. your skills with magic have improved exponentially, too. pepega, the fluffy white owl familiar who is almost-always by your side, is proof of that. 

and while you’ve met some truly vile individuals, you’re certain that you’ve also met some of the most incredible people to ever exist. kilwin, rilineth, jorah… you laugh with them, you cry with them. you feel safe with them. they don’t pry and you like it that way. even when you let something slip, you know how to deflect. you know how to hide where you’ve been behind a bright smile and lighthearted jokes. you are yourself around them, unabashedly so, but there are parts of you that you don’t want them to see. you don’t want them to know about the storm that rages in your chest. you don’t want them to know about what it means for you, or for the crown, or for laverathia, or for your family, or for them

with time, it feels like you’re deceiving them, over and over and over again. like you’re putting them in danger, even though you care about them all so very much. you don’t want to think about it, so you just keep moving. matching your pace alongside theirs. helping as best as you can. 

you travel all over alethustria with them, and that’s freedom… isn’t it? you go with them to quadroad and to vila's watch… to falas and to malino’re. you face all sorts of enemies, from bandits to giants to tiny blue creatures that move very quickly and really want to stab you. you work together to ensnare a much-hated revenant (who was tracking you, no less), to take down corrupt werewolves, to bring down a dragon

there are so many fights to look back on. so many experiences. some are incredible. some are tragic. but what truly matters is that you and your friends are together. always together. you see the surface for what it is. and it may not be easy, but you love it. you truly do. drinking firewhiskey with everyone. narrowly avoiding the scams of various merchants. walking around the bloomshower festival with wyrran. spending many evenings pouring over your spellbooks, compiling various arcanic formulae. 

eventually, you are all en route to kilwin’s home - a village called cowersby. you’ve never seen cows before, so it’s all very exciting. but before you get there, you pass by laketon, first. the sight of its lake - its namesake - makes something flare up within you. you wade into its shallow waters. it’s like a homecoming, but not quite. 

it’s been weeks since you’ve seen the sea. 

ii.

everything falls apart with a big, bright flash. 

the familiarity of it is what gets you. it twists your stomach into knots before you can even make the connection: a reflex that your mind must lurch to keep up with. but the memory does come to you. the memory of a new friend. keras. you remember that light, and… death. his death. 

silence hangs in the air for a fraction of a second. and then come the screams. 

they’re odd screams. muffled. you’re too far away to hear them clearly. but the terror is evident. people pour out of port valor, running away from whatever caused that light. you start running, too; towards it. you know that your companions are doing the same, though you, admittedly, don’t check. 

this is not something you want to run away from.

you’re fed up of running away. 

iii.

the trees of port valor have been reduced to gnarled trunks and jutting branches. 

the people of port valor… all of the surfacers who bustled about, full of energy, full of life… they’re all now entirely devoid of it. they’re splayed all over the ground; on the roads, in the dirt. their eyes are blank despite the lack of wounds marring their flesh. 

you can’t wrap your head around it. they couldn’t all have just… dropped dead. keras’ case was terrifying enough. but… an entire city? it’s a nightmare. it must be. but rilineth pinches you as per your request and, in the process, they confirm it. 

this is reality. port valor has fallen. 

you have to keep moving. 

iv.

those who still live were just lucky. they were barely out of the range of the blast and are now crammed in a temple. you wander amongst them, exchanging words of comfort; making promises to look out for their loved ones. but it is difficult. it is difficult when you think of the docks. of your first steps on land. of him. of needle and their shop. of drunken sailors bellowing out sea shanties. of all those fishermen. of busy markets and staring eyes. port valor was home to you, for a time. it was home, and it was important, and now it is bleeding out and there is nothing you can do to stop it. 

in that moment, a memory comes to you. of him brushing back your hair, voice low and playful in your ear. salt water taffy cures everything.

perhaps there is something you can do. 

you give your pouch of taffy to one of the survivors. zenine. a child you knew from before. you tell her to be strong; for her father - kargath - and for herself. and children are wise; wiser than anyone gives them credit for, you think. 

for there is hope. your mantra returns to you: there is always hope. you cannot lose sight of it. the storm prince, at it again. that’s what viglis would say. the triumph of emotion over logic. good. you like it that way. emotion will be your strength, now. hope will be your strength. in the face of the impossible, of the unthinkable… it has always been with you.

as have your companions. ever since you met them, anyway. 

your party can’t stay holed up in the temple forever. you reason that you need to examine one of the bodies of the fallen in order to deduce just what happened here. and, perhaps more importantly, you need to look for other survivors. 

preparations are made prior to setting out. weapons are distributed so as to give the present survivors a means of continued survival. jorah hands a spare shortsword to kargath; zenine takes some delight in the poison dagger you gift to her. before you leave, you visit another child. one that kilwin is attempting to cheer up - and rightfully so. the boy looks as if his very world has been torn apart. you know it likely has. you feel horrible for him. you truly do. loneliness is always terrible. he must feel the worst loneliness of all. 

kilwin promises to look for his family. you do the illusionary fish trick. it works for a moment, you think, but what the boy needs right now isn’t something illusory. he needs something real. something to hold on to. and so you decide to leave pepega with him. it’s not like you can take her where you and your companions will be going. no, her talents are best put to use here. you try to keep your tone light so as to not bog the boy down further. you say that she’s a very special owl who can always make people feel better. it’s not a lie: she’s cheered you up on countless occasions. 

you quietly tell pepega to come find you all if something goes awry in the temple, and you know that she will. you tell the boy - dillan - to take care of her, and you know that he will. as he reaches out to pepega, there is a small flicker of something in his eyes. hope, you think. barely recognizable. there nonetheless. 

it’s enough for now. 

v.

many things happen. too many things. 

a guard accompanies you; a guard searching for his missing son. he is killed; felled by one of the orcs responsible for the town’s destruction. kilwin brings him back from the dead, but the sight of it is enough to make bile creep up your throat. so much death. you can’t afford to become sensitive to it, not now. the guard is sent back to the temple with his companion - along with an unconscious orc prisoner and one of the victims of the blast that brought the port to its deathbed. 

there’s no time to stay still. all of you keep looking for the guard’s son; for survivors. you’re rather quick to find one: the count of port valor. he’s in grave peril, of course. he is saved, but more blood is spilt. more lightning comes screaming from the tips of your fingers. fires are set and put out and enemies are slain and it would all be very exciting if it weren’t so fucking terrible. 

it takes a toll on everyone. you see it in rilineth’s features - in how they move about the battlefield, all rage. all fury. even if they say they do not care, something in them begs to differ. they roar with each swing of their blade: they will have their revenge. you see it in the tightness of jorah’s brow. in the way he slips into an almost mechanical state, listing what the next step should be. an attempt to guide; to make sense of what should be nonsense. to hold everyone together as you all threaten to unravel at the seams. and you see it in kilwin. in how prayer after prayer spills from his lips. in how he grips his holy symbol. in how he keeps you all safe with gentle - yet fierce - determination. as for you - well, you don’t know how you look. you know that you must look some sort of terrible way, as you feel some sort of terrible way. but you don’t have the time to reflect on yourself - nor do you want to -  so you simply hope that whatever you’re doing is enough. 

all of you look for dillan’s parents. you don’t find them. you find a torn-up teddy bear and the state it’s in is almost the last straw for you. kilwin is quick to put it back together with a spell and you make a small mental note to give it to the boy. a poor substitute for the news he’d want to hear, but it’s something nonetheless.  

you entertain the thought of visiting the docks but suspect that the sight of them would just make you cry. and if you start crying now, you will never be able to stop.  

the helplessness is the worst part. 

vi.

thorak fireaxe.

he is the one responsible for all of this. for tearing souls from the living; for reducing them into husks that still, somehow, try to survive. he is the one who will meet his doom - for he must meet his doom. but that will come tomorrow. tonight, you are back in the temple. you are tired; bone-tired. but it is not the type of tired that sleep can help, and there is still much to be done.  

rilineth hands out a variety of items: wares looted from stores that no longer need them. kilwin approaches the temple priestess - lathendria - so as to discuss the condition of the count. jorah stands, quiet. still tense. still keeping a watchful eye over everyone. 

you do what you do best. you drift. 

dillan is asleep, and you are so very glad that he can sleep. pepega remains with him, true to the promise that she made. you swoop her up in a hug, burying your face in her soft feathers - then slip the teddy into dillan’s grasp, careful as to not wake him. he stirs ever-so-slightly, thanking pepega, and your heart swells. we have a son now, you joke to your familiar. she obviously agrees, as she coos and nestles beside the child once more. 

the boy has become important to you in a very short period of time. it’s strange. you used to be completely fine with being on your own - to the point of seeking that solitude out. even when you were settled in port valor, you were more than content with fleeting meetings and casual friendships. 

now? now, you have become rather sentimental. 

the faces of kindly strangers come back to you. the woman who’s necklace you got back… it belonged to her sister, didn’t it? were they from port valor? you can’t remember. you hope not. those tavern-keepers who sold you firewhiskey and laughed when you sampled virtually all of their wares… the little girl who stared at you, wide-eyed, months and months ago… where are they now? where is everyone now? 

people who were not strangers come to you, too. 

needle. they would not abandon their shop, and their business hardly ever took them beyond the range of the blast. you want to be hopeful but the fact that they’re not in the temple does not bode well. you’d best brace yourself for the worst. 

and… your first friend. you never found out his name. more and more, you regret not finding out his name. how else can you ask for him? you don’t even know the name of the ship he works on. he does business in port valor - that’s how you ended up here in the first place. but… that boat takes him to all sorts of different places. the chances of him being in port valor for the blast… they’re slim, aren’t they? he was somewhere else. he is alive. 

you should’ve saved a piece of saltwater taffy for yourself. 

what would your family do if they knew of the horrors at play here? lotlyn would cry, you think. as for the rest… at best, they’d ignore it. at worst, they’d twist it into some sort of condemnation of the surface world. they were always shockingly skilled at doing that sort of thing. 

as different as you are from your people, you’d be lying if you said the thought of dying beyond the sea didn’t terrify you. for some reason, you can’t quite bring yourself to tell that to your companions. 

vii.

interrogations are tricky business.

jorah is very serious about it all. you, on the other hand, feel a bit too awful to be serious about anything. you bring the prisoner a ration and speak to him pleasantly. after all, you wouldn’t talk if someone was cruel to you. as jorah begins conversing with him in orcish, you wonder just what sort of path would lead someone to be complicit in the destruction of an entire town. 

a dark one, evidently.

you learn of thorak’s alliance with an abyssal creature, further complicating an already-complicated task. the prisoner speaks of death and sacrifice so easily. it is all we know, he says, and you come to realize something. he is lost. 

you don’t know much about orcish clans, but you know a thing or two about being lost. you tell the prisoner to find a new path. his own path. to cherish life, and to abandon those who would claim otherwise. no one is expendable. not one single person. a good leader would never treat their followers as a means to an end. it’s all the more reason to put thorak down… though you fear he will never feel the same amount of pain that he wrought. 

jorah suggests a starting point for the prisoner’s new path: a city in the mountains. it’s promising enough. kilwin’s magic seals up his wounds. you ask for the prisoner’s name. torshul, he says, and you introduce yourself, too. then you read your new friend torshul a story.

circumstance can make a friend out of anyone, you suppose.

ix.

as expected, the battle is a tough one.

thanks to some of the information that torshul provided, you and your companions are able to spearhead an intra-clan revolt against thorak. but the fight is tough even with othurk and his fellow orcish allies. there is more blood. there is more death. and the sight of the small, unconscious boy on the altar - the guard’s son, andrew - worries you to the point of disorientation. 

thorak fireaxe is somehow more vile than you imagined. a feat, to be sure, as you were very much expecting a monster of a man. he has no respect for life; he relishes in carnage. he’s far beyond reason - as if you’d ever even offer to reason with someone as disgusting as him. he asks for your last words. you scream fuck you. every spell you cast is in the name of port valor. of that place which was once your home. 

you don’t think you’ve ever been more angry. you wonder if the same can be said of your companions. every word is vicious. every attack is brutal. but worry punctuates your fury. you worry as you see jorah fall, his blood dripping from the babau’s claws. you worry as rilineth bears the brunt of thorak’s blade. you worry as an aurochs gores into you. kilwin’s healing keeps you all standing - but you worry and you worry, and your desperation adds a charge to your violence. 

and as the tide begins to turn - to finally, finally turn - thorak lunges for the sword placed upon his fucking altar. he sets it aflame and plunges it into his own chest and time, itself, seems to stop. 

he is to be his own sacrifice. he is summoning his master.

rilineth is the first to act. take the child, they scream. take the child and go! as if any of you would leave them behind. not after all you’ve been through together - not when you got this far. kilwin casts sanctuary on andrew. your grip on your spellbook tightens. 

what comes to face you and your companions is like something from a nightmare. it’s massive, with spiraling horns and cloven feet. a demon. his plate amor is so dark, it seems to suck in every bit of light that surrounds it - even the light given off by the fiery portal burning behind him. 

he draws an onyx blade and utters a single word: kneel. something grips you. it pushes you down - commanding you to comply, to give in, to kneel

but you think of viglis. of those two words that have haunted you for as long as you can remember. storm prince. it’s true. you were born from dark waters. from rolling thunder. from forked lightning and savage currents. there is the splendor of the storm in your blood and you will never kneel for anyone. 

so you do not kneel for him. 

your companions fall to their knees, compelled to do so by whatever sorcery this blighted creature has casted. but he will not have them. you stand your ground, teeth bared. the demon summons a mote of fire - a threat. still, you stand. 

but then he starts talking to rilineth, and everything happens so quickly.

they begin to move to the demon’s side - with regret, so much regret - and you tell them to stop; you beg them to stop. kilwin does, too. he calls out a name you’ve never heard before: slumberjack

it’s a sharp blow somewhere deep. it rattles you more than thorak’s cruelty, because at least that was expected. you care for rilineth. you knew that they had their secrets and you respected that - after all, you couldn’t possibly demand secrets out of someone while fiercely guarding your own. but you were still bold enough to wager that you knew them. instead, you find yourself not knowing anything. the same helplessness that walked with you through the ruined streets of port valor is back by your side. (and you wonder: did it ever leave?) 

rilineth - slumberjack? - is swallowed up by the portal. you have no time to process it, no time to sit with your grief - as the demon is reaching for kilwin, now.

but he is not interested in this friend of yours. he finds what he wants in the bag of holding. the bag that you ensnared that much-hated revenant in. 

he dispels your arcane lock with ease and tyrian comes tumbling out. 

you almost feel relieved. almost. you were always in two minds about ensnaring someone - even if that someone is an undead and virtually unkillable entity who solely exists to track down and murder you. 

his attention snaps to you immediately. he reaches towards the corpse of an orc - to take their axe, no doubt, and bury said axe on some part of your body - but his master calls him away from you. the abyssal crest has been secured. the two of them leave through the portal that took your friend.

and then there is silence. 

x.

the aftermath feels like another battle in itself.

you ricochet between horror and profound sadness as you sift through the ruined chapel with your remaining companions. riddles are solved. clues become answers. slumberjack’s absence weighs heavy. there is much to discuss but you can’t find words anymore. you just can’t. 

as you’re getting ready to leave, something catches your eye. something you almost overlooked entirely. a small piece of paper, torn and lying there on the floor. you’re not sure what draws you to it; what inspires you to check it despite how very hollow everything feels… but you move to it, plucking it out of the soot and ash. 

and you see aquos

aquos.

scrawled on there, in rough strokes of ink.

aquos. 

it’s circled. 

other cities are listed underneath it. some of the others are circled, too. others are crossed out or have question marks next to them. but you can’t focus on those. you can’t. 

kilwin and jorah must’ve caught sight of you, as they’re peering at the list, too. their discussion amounts to buzzing in your ears and your breathing gets heavy. panic starts to move from your chest and up your throat. 

why is aquos listed here? laverathia isn’t on any of the well-known surfacer maps. why did thorak fireaxe - a demon-serving, bloodthirsty madman - possess this list? why does he know about aquos? how does he know about aquos? 

kilwin snaps you out of your spiral. he says that he can’t quite place aquos on the map. neither can jorah. 

you look up at them. you’re tired. you’re hurt. you don’t want anyone else to suffer and you don’t want to keep any secrets. not anymore. 

you say something that you thought you would never say again.

aquos is my home

xi.

by some miracle, the child is unharmed.

he wakes up and is immediately frightened by the sight of unfamiliar orcs. othurk’s presence calms him down a great deal, however. a part of you is glad that the child was unconscious for all that you and your companions saw. such horrors aren’t meant for anyone, much less children. 

the trek back to the temple is very strange. it’s as if no one can bring themselves to be at ease. there is still pressure in the air. tension. you no longer have a battle to focus on; your rage is exhausted. you try to laugh and to joke but your worries threaten to overwhelm you. you worry for slumberjack. for needle. for that surfacer. for the cities on that list. for port valor. for aquos. for your family

you worry for kilwin. for jorah. for yourself. 

for you have not been honest with these people. these people, who have been through so very much with you. who have fought foe after foe alongside you. who have laughed with you, cried with you, drank with you. one of them is gone, now. swallowed up by flame. 

you don’t want to live with any more regrets. you can’t

as you approach port valor once more, you see a frail woman. her robe is tattered and bloody and burnt in some places, too. her skin is lilac and her hair is long and white. there is an otherworldly quality to her that fascinates you. for a moment, you wonder if she is a ghost, but you don’t ask if she is. you ask if she is from here.

oh, no,” she says. “i just thought that i’d visit… for tourism purposes.” 

kilwin remarks that it’s a bad time for that and gets right to healing her. jorah offers her some spare clothes. as tense as you feel, the sight of them immediately moving to help this woman shifts something within you. 

you don’t want to live with any more regrets, and you know what you must do. 

xii.

everything begins to feel significantly less hollow when you arrive back in the temple. against all of the odds, andrew is able to reunite with his father - and the numbness that took over your body begins to wear off, like ice finally thawing under warmth. 

the woman’s name is ashara. the way she interacts with the world is an odd - yet welcome - comfort: it reminds you of yourself when you first arrived on the surface. 

kilwin tells you about slumberjack. you can’t say that their secrets don’t hurt - not when the wounds are still so very fresh. but you’re glad that the truth has come to light. and you don’t think of what slumberjack did as a betrayal. rather, they saved you. it wouldn’t be the first time they did so, either. you all agree to help them, because that’s what it means to be companions. that’s what it means to be friends.

the emperor and her court mage show up, having finally heard of port valor’s current status. you all put your minds together and try to decide on what the next step should be. you stare down at that dirty piece of paper - at that circled word, at aquos

and, when you are finally able to muster the courage, you turn to face your companions.

can we talk?” 

xiii.

the sun is setting. the last rays of the day wash the world in gentle gold. 

you are all sitting together. ashara has just finished telling you of her past - of her pain. she is of the vrinian empire, which no longer exists save for within the pages of history books. you’ve only known her for a few hours and you already trust her. she decides to join you and your companions on your quest and receives a warm welcome. her honesty, her bravery - it sharpens your resolve. 

so you take a deep breath… and you tell them.

you tell them your full name: reides aurelian yon-zinthos kien-khavas laverath. it’s odd, saying it again after such a long time. you expect it to feel… foreign. uncomfortable. instead, it flows easily off your tongue. even though you have been through so very much… it’s just you. 

you tell them that aquos is the capital city of laverathia, and that you are a prince of laverathia - second in line to the throne. kilwin and jorah are shocked - you knew they would be - but far too much was held deep within you. the wave has begun its crash to shore, and there is simply no use stopping it. 

you tell them of the events that led to you the surface world; of your father’s ferocity and your sister’s mercy, and of your friend who fished you out of the depths. you tell them how you felt crushed under the weight of your crown. how you were desperate to just be. would they understand that you were suffocating? or would they write you off as a noble brat chasing some far-fetched fantasy? viglis always said you were stuck in your own head far too often. 

the freedom you attained lacked direction and simply became negligence. you have been selfish, and you admit as much. kilwin is quick to interject - to say that you haven’t. that he understands. it calms you down a great deal; grounds you to what you must ask of them.

because you love this world. with your whole heart, you love it. you cannot turn your back on it. you will not. and that means that you cannot turn your back on your past, either.

i must accept that i have a duty,” you tell them. “not as a prince, not as a triton, but as… a person.

you apologize for deceiving them and you admit that you’re terrified. seeing aquos on that list has shaken you to your core, and you bow so low that your forehead presses against the earth. 

but when you speak, your voice does not shake.

as a guardian of the depths, i humbly ask that you three will help me in saving my fellow tritons from whatever darkness is being ushered upon them.”

your friends reply so quickly, there is no room for doubt to come creeping in. they all wish to help. ashara says so, first - entirely sincere; the newness of your friendship not even slightly an issue. kilwin says that he would be joining you on the journey to save aquos even if you asked him not to. jorah says that you will surely have a ranger at your side when you return.

there is no need for you to hide. to deflect and to guard. to hold those you love at arms’ length. all of the tension that clung to you dissipates. you feel lighter - more free than ever before. it brings back the memory of your arrival in port valor, months and months ago. 

back then, the sun shone bright. now, the moon is rising. 

you will never forget this place. you will never forget this moment

you are the prince of storms, and storms bring change. 

you resolve that you will change this world for the better. 

xiv.

the members of the fireaxe clan are going to make stew. 

or, rather, the former members of the fireaxe clan are going to make stew. 

it’s a sort of peace offering. a way of distinguishing them from their objectively terrible leader and those who wrought havoc on the town. 

the survivors aren’t exactly enthusiastic about the stew… nor are they enthusiastic about the presence of the fireaxe clan orcs, former members or not. but these orcs helped you and your companions, and so you do your best to spread excitement and cheer over a meal that isn’t dried rations. it isn’t a difficult task, as you’ve tasted krogash’s cooking before, and it is delicious.   

dillan seems to be doing better. he is still very close to pepega. it seems like he has quite the courageous streak, as he’s one of the first to try the stew. your heart swells with pride. the warmth of the stew is a massive comfort, and you get the sense that everyone has begun to heal. it will be an arduous journey. rebuilding port valor is no small task, and the events of the past few days (by persana, how has it only been a few days?) have inflicted a great deal of hurt on all of you. they have left scars that will not fade with time. you know this. 

but there is finally laughter - true laughter. at jorah’s tainted mess kit, at quips made by the orcs, at you as you sing praises for krogash’s culinary masterpiece. the flicker of hope that you saw in dillan’s eyes has become something stronger; something that has truly caught on. 

for the first time since you saw that big, bright flash, you truly believe that everything will be okay. 

xv.

plans are made. many are scrapped, but many also stick.

you and your companions will secure the rest of the abyssal crests and, in doing so, thwart the plans of that horrific demon. it is a journey that will one day lead you back to aquos. back to your home. it is a terrifying thought, but the thought of failing your people scares you so much more. 

there is also something else that you all wish to do. many of the fallen in port valor are beyond saving; burnt away in ensuing fires or mangled by gloating, sadistic orcs. however, there are unwounded bodies, too. the anti-life magic that fireaxe clan deployed may have ripped their souls from them, but their bodies still support life. the idea of reuniting these bodies with their souls is proposed, and arrangements to accommodate this are made. it is a mere sliver of hope, but that’s where everything starts, is it not? 

ashara ends up working very closely with the court mage - an earnest fellow named kain - in order to realize this goal. together, they begin assembling the schematics for a stasis pod, similar in design to the one that brought ashara out of the ancient past and into the present day. 

during all of this time… all of this discussing and plotting and arranging… you, very foolishly, keep your distance from kain. 

there is no deep reason for this. 

you merely find yourself jealous of his spellbook. 

the spellbook that you cobbled together all on your own pales in comparison to his wealth of institutional knowledge. he says that he spent ten years studying in atemcester - the renowned city of magic. you think back to your time in laverathia, and how you’d fuss over self-taught incantations for months at a time. if only you could have studied, too. your spellbook would be just as good as his. probably even better!

but as the work that must be done begins to wind down, kain praises you for your wizarding efforts with such sincerity that you can’t maintain your curtness. kain proposes an exchange of knowledge: a spell for a spell. you ask him to teach you sending. you’ve seen kilwin use it before, and you need to have a means of contacting someone in aquos without actually being in aquos. in return, you teach kain how to summon forth a tidal wave. deeming the trade unfair, kain throws in another spell: locate object. kilwin joins in on the study session and, for a few hours, everything feels so… normal

as if the fate of the world doesn’t partially rest upon your shoulders. 

on your way to bed, you check on dillan. you find him in a deep slumber, using the teddy bear you left with him as a pillow. beside him, pepega also dozes.

that night, you sleep better than you have in days. 

xvi. 

you stand outside of the temple, facing the sea. that great expanse of blue. no matter how far you go from the sea, you will always be connected to it. it will always welcome you. it will always, always call you back home. 

it’s not like you don’t want to go back to aquos. you just don’t want to get stuck. you don’t want to get trapped. your hands still shake when you think of that room. 

you need to see if everyone is okay. to warn them of what you have seen. the question is: who will you speak to?

not your father. 

you consider talking to your mother. she would know what to do. always brilliant, always skilled; the empress of laverathia has a reputation for working in the shadows with a smile. but the love she has in her heart for your father is the stuff of song. you will not ask her to choose.

you don’t trust dhudus to take you seriously. or to even remember who you are, to be quite honest. 

lotlyn, she’s the easiest to talk to - and persana knows how much you miss her. but you can’t put her through these horrors. she has done enough for you. she deserves to live her life as peacefully as possible. to be happy and free. 

and that leaves viglis. he’ll yell at you, that’s for sure. he’ll mock and undermine and do what viglis does best: namely, make you feel like one big mistake. but you know that he loves laverathia more than anything else in the world. the shield of the reef. the one who will always protect the people of his empire. the one who dragged you home regardless of whether you wanted to be there or not. 

he’s the one who you must speak to. you’ll take his scrutiny; it’s not like you’re a stranger to it. 

you channel your arcane energy into your shell. you cast the spell. 

you begin to speak.

viglis. it’s reides. on surface. things aren’t good. demons, cities dying. is everyone okay? be alert. i know you’re angry with me but please remember that i still care so much about you and everyone. i just couldn’t stay there.

once you start, you are unable to stop. you’re aware of sending’s word limit. you can only say 25 words; after that, all is lost. you can only hope that the jist of your message gets across. 

you shut your eyes, mind racing. does he hate you now? will he ignore you? will this all be for nothing? how will you -

that familiar voice comes booming through your doubt. 

viglis.

it’s viglis.

surprisingly, he doesn’t yell at you. he doesn’t undermine nor does he mock. 

he is worried

he tells you that you need to come home. that it’s safer in aquos than it is on the surface. he even says that he is willing to talk - but the word limit hits and he’s cut off.

you stand there, bewildered. at some point you must have opened your eyes because you’re, once more, staring at the sea. you feel… small. like a child again. desperately trying to follow your older brother - the sword he loaned you clutched tight in your hand. dragging you down. 

you quash the reflex to talk to him again. you did what you had to do. viglis will do what must be done. the laverathian empire knows that they must be alert. you rub at your eyes; shake off the memories. 

there is one more message you’d like to send. the problem is that you still don’t know the surfacer’s bloody name

kain said that it’s possible. you simply need to visualize the recipient clearly. to know their personality and their background. 

unfortunately, you can’t stay you know your friend’s background, either. but you were familiar with him, weren’t you? the two of you spent so much time together. you know what made him laugh and what made him timid. you know how he’d complain about being stuck with the worst jobs on the ship while still being so incredibly proud of the work he did on it. how he’d be so oddly hard on himself while also willing to brag about the most ridiculous things.

you know that you care about him. deeply so. everything you have right now - it’s all because he was so brave. he stuck his neck out for you and didn’t expect anything in return. 

you need to to know if he is okay. it’s not something you want to leave up to fate… not when fate can be so very cruel.

and so you focus on the sea once more. then, once more, you close your eyes. 

you picture him.

you picture his face. that freckled brown skin - his smooth, gilless neck. his pointed ears and his green eyes. you think of that scar running down his left cheek. and you think of his kindness. his strangeness. his silliness. he was always funny in his own way. 

you think of his expression when the two of you met. you think of his expression when the two of you parted.  

and you begin to speak. 

hi. i’m the blue person you helped. in the net. name is reides. sorry for telling you like this. are you okay? world is scary.

you get a response before you can even open your eyes.

your friend is alive.

he’s in atemcester; has sailed in there from davenport. all is well. he keeps talking, is about to say his name -

but that blasted word limit cuts him off.

of course it did. you can’t help it: you laugh. first viglis, now him! it’s too much. 

judging from his pleasant tone, you don’t think he knows what happened to port valor. news will travel. he will soon understand why you were so worried. 

you can message him again, if you wish - but you decide against it. someday, you will meet him. 

someday. 

and whenever that day comes, you will ask for his name. 

you take one more look at the sea and offer quiet thanks to persana. then, you move to tell your companions of all you have learnt.  

xvii.

you have two weeks before setting off. two weeks that you intend to spend doing what you do best. 

namely, researching

ashara joins you, and the two of you spend hours upon hours scouring the library. 

ashara works hard at finding substitute materials for her stasis pods. the landscape has changed considerably from the days of the vrinian empire, and materials that were once commonplace for her are now priceless rarities. she also almost drops a particularly heavy tome on your head, but, luckily, you are able to dodge out of the way just in time. 

meanwhile, you search for any bit of information you can find regarding demons. and since your companions are willing to help you with aquos, you decide to study water-breathing, as well. it’s a topic you never thought you’d be delving into - after all, it’s not something that’s an issue for you. you couldn’t imagine sticking your face in water and being unable to breathe. the mere concept of it is far too inconvenient. but the absurdity of the topic gives it a certain charm. as a child, you loved imagining things through the perspective of a surfacer. and you owe so much to your companions. this is the least you can do as thanks for their loyalty. 

as you study, your mind occasionally wanders to the subject of slumberjack. they walk alongside that demon now, do they not? the thought of it makes you shudder. judging by everything that kilwin told you, slumberjack is the sort who can handle themself. in fact, they may even rival that terrible power. but it doesn’t change the fact that they deserved better. so much better. you wish that you got to be honest with them. you wish that they knew where you came from… that they knew of your bloodline. even if they hated you for lying to them. even if they said they didn’t want to go back to aquos. you wish that you got to tell them. to talk to them; to truly talk to them. to teach them how to swim, as you said you would - so many months ago. 

but you cannot change the past, and so you will do better in the future. 

with your companions, you will find them. until then, you will hold fast to the trust that you have placed in them. you will hope that they are well, and that they will stay safe. 

the connection that exists between you all…

it is not something that can be broken. 

kilwin busies himself with helping in the port valor recovery efforts. from recovering bodies to aiding with construction, it’s grim business. you fret over him during research breaks but know that you shouldn’t get in his way. you’ll be sure to check in with him soon, though. everyone has their limits and it would be terrible if he pushed himself too far. at some point, you must gather your courage and ask him about needle.

if nothing else, you’ll see them off right.

you’ll have to do something about dillan, too. the boy has grown so close to pepega. the two of them play every day. he’s begun laughing again; smiling and running. he is not entirely without sadness, but it’s as if his youth has come back to him. it would be too sad to leave him alone once you must take her back. you consider buying him some sort of owl-themed toy; perhaps making one. but wouldn’t it be better to provide him with the real thing? an owl of his own… yes, you’ll have to ask jorah to pick one up for you, later. 

the ranger has become the supply-gatherer of the group. the emperor provided you all with funds and jorah was quick to begin allocating said funds to various things that you will all need. you’re not the best when it comes to spending gold responsibly. the surface world is full of so many interesting things, you’d surely spend it all on various, limited-use trinkets - thus incurring jorah’s wrath in the process. so you’re glad that he took the task upon himself. 

in the past few days, your whole world changed.

everything went upside down, then rightside up, then upside down all over again. this happened multiple times. over and over again. so many things came to light. so many truths were revealed. you feel… lighter. like a truer version of yourself. 

the road ahead will be long. there will surely be more sadness; more grief. but it is a path you will gladly take, as there will surely be happiness, too. there will be laughter and there will be hope. 

the life of an adventurer isn’t easy, that much is true.

but it is certainly worth it.

07. your magic.


i. 

the first time you see magic, you are very young and you are hiding in a corner of the library. there is a man who wears a pendant with a pretty shell on it. you recognize that shell: it’s your family’s crest. it’s on lots of your clothes, too. the man doesn’t see you and you’re glad for it. it’s way past your bed-time and, if he were to notice you sneaking about the castle, he would probably tell your mother. or, persana forbid, your older brother. that would be awful. so you’re happy to sit quietly and watch.

the man raises one of his hands, making odd gestures and muttering words that you don’t understand. sea-water swirls into his palm, pulled in by some force that you can’t see. you’re trying to make sense of it when, suddenly, the swirling stops entirely. in the time it takes for you to blink, the water becomes a long, beautiful shard of ice. the man holds it in his hand and looks at it closely. you suppose he mustn’t want it because he lets the sea melt it away. 

you put your hand out, too. you try to pull the water in; to make your own ice. you picture the shard: as clear as glass. as sharp as bone. 

but nothing happens.

ii. 

your people value family. they value blood. 

your blood, they say, is special. royal. blessed by persana.

only it’s not blessed in the way you want it to be.  

it’s not that you’re ungrateful to persana. that would be stupid. and, regardless of what viglis might say, you’re not stupid. he isn’t one to talk, anyway, because he can use magic. thankfully, viglis’ magic is different from the kind that you’re interested in - namely, the kind that the sorcerors at court use. 

viglis’ magic is bound to his oath. his persana-given oath. the sorcerers don’t have any oaths. they hail from renowned magical families who persana, himself, is said to have picked out - one by one by one. they get to go to a special place called the crystal trench, where they hone their magical power. when you asked about going there, too, you were looked at as if you were crazy.

magic flows through sorcerers. it comes to them naturally, as they are the chosen ones. 

you are no sorcerer. there is no magic in you. 

royalty is the only thing in your blood.

iii.

years later, you find something.

something from the surface. 

the older you get, the more you slip out of your father’s domain. shipwrecks are never close to laverathia, but that adds to the fun in looking for them. and finding the fallen vessels - that’s even better. those hulking skeletons of wood and metal have been rotting on the ocean floor for who knows how long. you scour these man-made cadavers for fragments of the surface world.

this ship carries a multitude of things. amongst them all is a chest. a locked chest. you can’t find the key and picking it is no good. slamming a rock against it repeatedly does the trick, though. 

at first, you’re greeted by nothing but a surge of bubbles and gold. lots of gold. you have no need for any of that, so you dig past it. it’s good that you do; the real treasure is under it all. the book is under it all. 

obviously, it’s waterlogged. the elements of the sea aren’t compatible with those of land: as your people say, they’re two worlds that should never meet. however, one word on the book is perfectly clear. it’s written in common and is carved right into the book’s sturdy cover. 

SPELLBOOK.

spellbook. a book for spells. do sorcerors study these? they won’t let you into the crystal trench so you have no way of knowing. most of this spellbook’s pages are corroded, its ink largely washed away. the chill in the water is the only thing preserving what little remains of it.

in the remains, you see symbols. familiar symbols. it takes you a moment to recall just how they’re familiar, but everything soon shifts into place. you’ve seen them in scrolls. special scrolls - the ones tucked away in the forbidden section of the castle library. are the symbols magic? were those scrolls magic

was it so close to you, all this time? 

your hands shake as you copy the symbols into your journal. if they are magic, they are precious, and you must guard them from the deep. your copy ends up looking quite different from the original. 

it’s yours all the same. 

the surface book is practically deteriorating in your hands. the chest offered some modicum of protection from the sea, but your curiosity cast that protection away to the currents. ruined or not, you slip it into your bag. 

you won’t let its knowledge go to waste.

iv.

the symbols in the book all fit together. 

each is an arcanic sentence that weaves neatly into the next. they’re formulae. equations. whoever first transcribed them knew the ways in which they could interact. they knew how to harness their potential. how to make magic out of them. 

needless to say, you want to know how do to those things, too. you want to learn.

you can’t go to anyone in your family for help. your father would get angry; he’d call it surfacer nonsense. viglis would rip it up and tell you to never speak of it again, and dhudus wouldn’t care. your mother might be a bit more understanding, but she’s busy with baby lotlyn - who is currently in the throes of learning how to swim properly. 

you can’t trust any of the court mages to keep your findings secret, either - and you certainly can’t go anywhere near the crystal trench. endless suspicions would arise if you did so. 

you only have yourself. 

and so, you piece it together all on your own. it’s a grueling process. you hide away in the forbidden sections of the library whenever you can, scrounging up whatever information you can possibly find - parsing meaning from that which appears nonsensical. breaking equations apart to put them together again. 

you take it step by step; second by second. as time passes, you learn what each of the symbols mean. you see the ways in which they connect and you see the ways in which they combine. you see the demands that they make of you and you see their power. and you realize: they are alive. 

they have energy. an abundance of it. 

just like you.

v. 

you press your knife into the tome’s cover. it breaks through the purple material; you’re careful not to stab through it and ruin the book entirely. as slowly as you would copy down an arcanic formula, you spell out your name in primordial - the language of your people. 

REIDES.

you open it to a fresh page, smoothening the parchment out with one of your webbed hands. your studies began a little over a year ago, but it’s time. it’s finally time to commit to this in its entirety. different from the magic of the crystal trench sorcerors, this magic is yours. 

with your ink-needle, you write another word. this time, it’s in common - reminiscent of that surfacer book that you found so long ago, locked away and buried under bubbles and gold. 

SPELLBOOK

vii.

as a child, you wondered why persana didn’t see fit to put magic in your blood. now that you are older, you understand why he didn’t. you understand entirely. 

you wouldn’t trade any of this for anything.

failures are aplenty. so many spells backfire in the oddest of ways. you try to get a shield to form in front of you; instead, you send a blast careening across the room - weak enough to be harmless, but strong enough to knock everything off your table. you try to cloak yourself in magical armor; instead, you feel the tingle of static, and your hair stands on edge despite the water that surrounds you. you keep track of your mistakes, modifying their corresponding equations symbol by painstaking symbol. though your mishaps present an added element of danger to your studies, you prefer the ones that backfire to the ones that end up doing nothing at all. true to your title as ever, you press on with a stubbornness befitting of the storm prince. it’s like a hunger that you need to sate. an itch that you need to scratch. 

it takes a while for you to establish your magical foundation - but, when you do, you begin to feel rather unstoppable. you conjure frost. you materialize light. you form illusions. considering the amount of work you’ve put into your spellcraft, the spells are all very simple - but you’re not discouraged. it’s still power in its rawest form, harnessed in a beautiful collaboration between you and all of the knowledge you have scrawled in your spellbook. 

one spell in particular haunts you, though. 

there are no scrolls regarding that magical shard of ice that you saw so many years ago. you have to piece your own spell together - a mish-mash of arcanic marks and incantations. it’s most definitely a bastardization of whatever the true spell is… an affront to whoever practices this craft, be it upon the surface or within the depths. but you don’t particularly care. again: you are the storm prince, and being an affront comes with the territory. 

you whisper words of power - words that correspond to the symbols scrawled on the page before you. your hand moves with each facet of the formula; your fingers twitch and curl, dipping into the energy that is intrinsic to all that surrounds you. that which you couldn’t understand as a child makes perfect sense to you, now. 

the water is cold in your hand - and it gets colder. colder. colder. so cold, you feel like it’s seeping right into your body. chilling your muscles. freezing your blood. you close your eyes but you can see it. as clear as glass. as sharp as bone. 

and when you open your eyes, it’s there. 

a long shard of ice, suspended in the space above your palm. 

you smile as you bring it closer to you. 

you did it. 

you put your spellbook down on your desk, grabbing an ink-needle so that you can take more notes. the shard is a bit longer than your face and is pointed on either end. you sketch it quickly, mentally recording rough measurements and properties. 

as beautiful as it is, you can do better than this, you think. 

you copy the spell down again, making slight adjustments to the symbols that you so carefully strung together. they’re just like you: they can do better than this, too. if you moved your hand like that, instead… if you placed more emphasis on this… yes, that’s it. that’s what you must do. 

you rest the ink-needle next to your book, your other hand still maintaining the shard. you nod your head towards it, giving thanks before letting the sea-water rush in to claim it. the ice melts away in your palm, leaving behind a loneliness. 

it will be short-lived. 

your eyes dart over the page. you take a deep breath.

and you begin whispering words of power all over again.