Enter the Snowflake's lair... Circulation: 131,950,016 Issue: 271 | 22nd day of Celebrating, Y8
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Christmas Tide


by laurelinden

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From the deck of his one-man schooner, Karby shivered against the cold wind that buffeted his watercraft from all sides. As the Maraquan Eyrie adjusted the sails to point the boat eastward, toward land, he couldn't help but long for the warm cup of Borovan and the friendly, leaping flames that waited for him at his Neohome at the port. He closed his eyes, imagining the warmth running through his entire body as his sipped his drink and held his frigid paws before the fire. What a lovely Christmas Eve that would be!

     His eyes snapped open at the sound of splitting wood. Water drenched his face in a surge of salt and cold, and when the Eyrie wiped it away he saw, to his horror, that one of the smaller masts of his schooner had been torn down by a wave. A sickly feeling of unease pricked at his stomach; peering upward, he saw that the sky was a roiling green.

     Even the biggest rookie of the ocean knew that a sky of that color could mean only one thing: a storm, and a nasty one at that.

     The air blasted at him again in pockets of cold and warmth, but Karby was too busy to shiver or think of home. The Eyrie rushed from bow to stern, from port to starboard, fastening ropes, loosening riggings, in a frantic effort to keep his little boat floating. The wind shrieked in his ears, hissing cries of delighted destruction, but the Eyrie's long years of experience would not let him admit defeat so easily.

     He let out a string of sailor curses at the wind and the water all, shaking a paw at them in anger, but his words were lost amid the wailing. Then the sky seemed to open up above him, releasing a terrible bolt of blinding silver, which roared in a sound more deafening than any the Eyrie had yet heard.

     The sound did not end - it faded into a ravenous crackling rumble, and the Eyrie paled at the sight that now revealed itself before him. Lightning had hit his ship, giving him in an ironic twist the very flames he'd been longing for. Flames that, here, would be his undoing.

     The fire lapped its way up the mast in streaks, eating away at the white fabric and leaving dead black char in its wake. Mist from the water chewed it away, and gaping holes remained where once his schooner's livelihood had stood.

     He would have no way home.

     Even now, the storm had not sated its fury. The boat lurched as the waves beneath it boiled to an unsettling size, flipping the watercraft about as if a mere toy. Karby, abandoning hope of steering his ship free of the weather, clung to the wheel as if drowning. The water and wind lashed at him, howling with cries beyond the realm of understanding, tearing at him with its rage.

     The Eyrie cried out as the biggest wave yet peaked in front of him, dripping with white foam as if from the jaw of a starving beast. Throwing a paw above his head to protect himself, he felt an overpowering pressure drive him back, across the deck, and into the frothing waters themselves. As blackness closed around him, the Eyrie knew nothing more.

     * * * * *

     "Is he awake?"

     "His eyes moved, I think."

     With great effort, Karby moved his head toward the direction of the voices and opened his eyes. A pair of Maraquans gazed back, a Zafara and a Kougra, and as Karby's senses returned and he became aware of his surroundings, he realized with a start that they were underwater.

     The surprise of it jerked him to a sitting position, and his head reeled in protest. Putting his paws at his temple impatiently, Karby demanded, "What happened?"

     The Zafara seemed to think this question amusing. Smiling, she replied, "It's hard for us to tell, really. You could have done anything from taking a long and foolish swim to falling off of your boat."

     "We can't see how you fell below the surface, only that you did," explained the Kougra rationally, throwing his companion a look for her light attitude. "Do you remember anything?"

     Scowling, Karby quickened the massage of his throbbing head. "It was a storm that blew me off," he muttered. "I remember the lightning, the fire, the waves... and that it's Christmas Eve," he added after a moment.

     "Christmas, now; you slept all night," informed the Zafara. "I am Lilen, and Yori and I welcome you to spend the holiday here with us."

     Not that I have much of a choice. The words echoed sourly in Karby's ears, made worse by the thought of the fire that he should be sitting before, and the soft Christmas music that the neighborhood band would be playing outside. Under the water there could be no fire, no warm Borovan, no tree. Nothing to remind him of his favorite holiday - only an annoying pair of chattery Maraquans and a headache would be his companions this year.

     "Would you like to come outside?" asked Lilen, offering a paw to help him up. Karby was about to object, insisting that he'd rather stay inside, when she added, "If you're not too weak."

     His sailor pride would not tolerate such a remark; throwing his chin up, Karby raised himself to his feet, ignoring her offered paw. "Very well."

     Yori hurried to open the door for him, opening the way to the outer sea. Reluctantly Karby passed him, thinking longingly of home, when finally he allowed his eyes to fix on the scene before him.

     It wasn't home - no, certainly nothing near - but it was Christmas. Rather than hanging ornaments on trees, the Maraquans had hung them from the creeping sea vines that twisted along every pole, up every wall, so that the entire town was decorated. Bits of red and green coral were thrown along the sea floor like confetti, and there was even a group of Maraquans strumming on ornaments made of fishbone and seaweed. The sound that they produced was more of a vibration in the water than actual music, but it had the same soothing, peaceful effect as the neighborhood band playing near his Neohome at the port.

     Karby realized his mouth was hanging open in awe (most un-sailorlike) and hastily shut it. Yori came up at his side, holding a strange orb of glass, its sides foggy with steam. "Would you like some?" he asked.

     "What... is it?" asked the Eyrie.

     Breaking into peals of laughter, Lelin held up an orb of her own before them. "It's sea-salt tea, of course," she informed him. "You drink it like this." Lifting her arms up above her, she tilted the fluid-filled orb on its head and put her mouth to its upside-down top, slipping her fingers across the opening. The air in it bubbled to the surface, allowing the liquid to pour out into her waiting mouth. Closing the contraption again, the Zafara beamed, wiping her lips. "We always drink it at Christmastime."

     Like Borovan, thought the Eyrie. With as much dignity as he could muster, Karby imitated Lelin's procedure, and his eyes widened in surprise as the sea-salt tea dripped into his mouth. It was delicious! It tasted of long days on the beach, the smell of the tide, the feeling of the wind in his hair when on the sea - with a hint of peppermint. "It's... good," he admitted. Oddly, his headache already started to ease.

     "For you," said a voice. Looking down, Karby saw that one of the Maraquan village children was holding up what appeared to be a ball of colored seaweed. Curiously, Karby took it, gently unwrapping its coverings. Inside was a small whistle made of delicate coral.

     "We can hear it down here if you play it from the surface," the young Maraquan told him. "My brother gave it to me in case I should decide to travel Abovewater when I get older, but I can always get another. It's not every day we meet a surface-dweller."

     Strangely touched, Karby thanked the child. Gazing at all of the decorations around him, and all of the Maraquans exchanging gifts in the square, the thought of a lonely house on Christmas didn't seem as appealing as it had, Borovan or no Borovan.

     A rumbling sound vibrated through the water. Karby noticed that all of the Maraquans peered up expectantly; confused, he did the same. A shape split the water far above, peeling the surface behind in two long wakes. For a second Karby blanched, thinking it a sea-monster of some sort, when the realization of what it was finally occurred to him.

     A ship. Upside-down from this view, but a ship nonetheless.

     "That's your ticket up," said Yori softly. "Swim up beside it... we can give you a pole of bright seaweed that will attract their attention. You'll be home in no time."

     After a moment of considering the idea, Karby shook his head. "If you don't mind," he said, "I think I'll catch the next one."

     The Maraquan Kougra broke into a smile. "Of course."

     Eying the whistle in his paw, Karby added, "And perhaps next Christmas some of you could spend it with me and see what the holiday is like Abovewater."

      Yori's smiled widened. "I'd like that," he said, and the Maraquan child nodded fervently at his side.

      "Merry Christmas, then!" cried Karby the sailor, holding up the sloshing orb of sea-salt tea in a toast as the colors and music of Maraqua surrounded him.

      Grinning, Yori clinked it with his own. "Merry Christmas."

The End

 
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