The Underwater Mage
Enchanting... that was the only word for it. The young Cybunny twirled through the water, watching the vibrant seaweed rippling around her passage. Swimming almost parallel to her was a school of Soreen, tails flicking in staccato movements as they propelled their way through the ocean. She kicked her legs harder to propel herself, but the school anticipated her approach and darted away, scattering in an explosion of colours.
The ocean was quite deep here, but a few rays of sunlight managed to filter into the murky depths, reflecting off crystalline coral and seaweed, all the different colours of the spectrum. Other petpets swam gracefully around her, most of them unable to see her water-coloured fur. She enjoyed swimming down here, invisible except for the currents stirring around her, her colour allowing her to breathe underwater without gills. She always said she wanted to find Maraqua, but of course the ocean was wide and she was only one small pet. And the wilderness was spectacular; nothing could mar the beauty of the sea floor.
Except... what was that?
A sodden boot lay half-sunk in the muddy sand that was the ocean floor. She could see the toe peeking out, separated from the sole, and lichen was slowly growing over the leather. Compared to the bright colours around it the boot looked dull and lifeless, and certainly did not belong down here.
There was plenty of movement around her from the currents, but a large shape in her peripheral vision made her turn, alighting on the seabed in case she needed to bound away at speed. Her invisible paws settled into the mud, throwing up fine clouds of sand, and she stared as a Maraquan Hissi slowly zigzagged towards where she was. His bright scales were a sharp contrast to the tired black circles under his eyes. Eyes that looked so much more aged than the vibrant scales and lissom body suggested.
He passed by her in a cool ripple of current, eyes scanning the seabed for something. They alighted on the boot, and he serenely swam down towards it, the weaving of his long tail causing the seaweed around to flicker. One fin reached out, the tip barely touching the top of the boot, and the Hissi closed his eyes.
She watched with curiosity as a dark grey colour spread along the leathery brown surface, as if paint was running down it. Of course, as this was the bottom of the ocean, paint would immediately be washed away, so this must be something else. It was only when the entire thing had been covered that she realised it had been turned to stone.
"You're probably wondering what I'm doing," came a low, husky voice as the Hissi slowly tilted his head so one huge eye was staring straight at her. She froze in instinctive fear as she watched the huge golden eyes, the lapis-blue slit in the centre aimed directly at her face. He was the first pet to have noticed her in the water without her having done something to make her presence known.
"That's a good camouflage," he continued in the same even tone, tail flicking slightly at an unexpected current. "I almost didn't see you, but I could feel your curiosity in the water." He held out a fin against the current, eyes closing for a second as his body relaxed.
"A-are you a sorcerer?" she stuttered finally, torn between inching closer or bounding away. He didn't appear to be dangerous, but there were powerful muscles rippling under his turquoise scales, so she couldn't be too sure. Of course, maybe he didn't even need to use the muscles at all if he wanted to attack her.
The Hissi looked thoughtful. "I suppose I am. I can certainly use magic. But I'm not one for titles. I don't need them for what I do."
"What do you do?" she asked, staring again at the stone boot.
He followed her gaze and then might have given her a tiny smile. She thought she saw the edges of his mouth twitch, but couldn't be too sure.
"I clean," he said, lips curling up to reveal fangs sharper than she expected. He must have seen her confusion, which meant he could definitely see her properly, because he reached down to the stone boot and his eyes narrowed fractionally.
The next moment she had thrown up her paws to cover her face as it exploded in a cloud of dust. She opened her eyes and stared through her paw as the larger remaining parts of the stone, grains of grey sand, settled in patterns on the seabed, while the finer dust drifted away on the current in intricate whorls. Deciding it was safe, she lowered her paws and stared at the Hissi.
"I was born down here in the ocean, in a small village past Mystery Island," the Hissi began. "Back when I was newly hatched I had a petpet, a graceful Belonthiss that followed me around everywhere. Of course, being young as I was I liked to explore around the village simply because there was nothing really to do except harvest seaweed, and that didn't take much time at all, as most of us could use magic.
"Then one day we came across something strange. It was barely as large as the tip of my fin, and square, but thinner than seaweed. And it was a vibrant pink on one side, a colour I still have yet to see down here naturally. The other side looked like metal, but it was not. I did not know what it was. We brought it home, but the next day my petpet left without me and did not return. I went looking for him, and found him some hours later. He had tried to eat another of the things, this one a bright green, and was no longer breathing."
He stopped speaking and regarded her with a steady gaze as she gazed back, appalled.
"What was the thing?" she asked.
"I took him back to the village, and the healer there told me that it was something called a 'candy wrapper'. I still to this day do not really understand what it is, but she went on to tell me that all sorts of rubbish like that had been tossed into the ocean by careless pets up above. Pets who were so worried with marring their own land that they decided to ruin the beauty of the water. I've seen other petpets meet the same fate, and it saddens me to think that others could be so callous."
"So that's why you clean?" the Cybunny said, suddenly understanding. "You turn things that won't break down on their own into sand, so that petpets can't accidentally choke on them."
He nodded with a smile, happy that she understood so quickly. "Our village didn't really create any waste, as we lived off the bounty of the ocean floor. But a few days later I left, seeking another pet to teach me how to use the magic that I had inherited in ways that those at home could not. Eventually I found one, a bad-tempered shadow Jetsam, and ever since I have been searching the ocean floor in order to make sure as few petpets as possible suffer the same fate."
Her gaze was drawn down to the patch of grey sand that had sunk into the murky-brown, realising that before this conversation she had never really considered what happened to the dropped food packages and bags that she used. She used bins whenever possible, but sometimes they just weren't in a convenient enough of a place. She would have blushed, if her colour had allowed it.
"That's very... nice of you," she began. Then she shook her head. "Nice isn't really the right work. Good. Selfless? I don't know, but now I sort of wish I had magic!"
He shook his head slowly. "It's a huge responsibility. I know I'll never be able to cover the entire ocean floor in my lifetime, let alone find the junk that settles in ocean I've just left behind. Even knowing this, I can't stop. I just remember my petpet."
He face settled into melancholy for several moments, and she didn't dare to interrupt him. The currents swirled around them, ruffling her fur, but he managed to stay in much the same spot by rippling his body slightly. Then finally he glanced down at her again and let out a huge breath, tiny bubbles spilling out of his mouth to drift to the surface far above.
"I suppose I should keep moving," he said after a while, flicking his tail and rising a metre.
"Do- I don't suppose you'd mind if I travelled with you, just for a bit?" she asked.
He frowned at her, but then his face relaxed and he gave her another fanged smile. "Why not?" he mused. "I could use some company."
She pushed off the sea floor and paddled her paws against the currents. She didn't have the grace in the water that a Maraquan pet would have, but she could swim quite well, and her colour made it somehow easier. The Hissi swam lazily away and she followed.
"You never told me your name," she said, keeping abreast.
"Hmm, well, I don't really use one. I travel alone much of the time, and I left my village so long ago I've almost forgotten my old one."
"Well, I can't just go around calling you Hissi, or something," the Cybunny objected.
"You're right." The Hissi smiled in amusement. "My name is Ritzani... and yours?"
"Espirer." She smiled back at him. "Ritzani. It suits you."
Then the two pets swam through a forest of waving seaweed and disappeared from sight.