It’s about midday and the sun will be making its descent in a few hours. I’ve been sitting on this stupid dinghy of a boat all day with nothing to show for it yet. I mean, I can’t help that this boat is near useless. The only means I have for getting anything of value is by trading and that has never gotten me much. This glorified skiff is as good as it’s going to get. It’s only big enough to fit myself, my meager fishing supplies, and the small amount I catch. It has a sail for days when the wind isn’t against me, which is patched though it catches the wind. There are holes in the hull that have been covered by less than adequate means, but I guess I can’t complain too much. At least it floats. And my surroundings are breathtaking. The crystal clear water is almost like glass. The light breeze moves past my ears and occasionally picks up a strand or two of my hair. I’ve been told that my head looks like it’s on fire when the wind and sun catch it right. I may not have anything to show for spending days out here on the ocean, but there is really no other place I’d rather be.
Myname is Neri and I live on the small fishing island of Sarochori, one of the poorestplaces in all of Atlantis. I was brought to this Sea forsaken place when I was aboutthree years old by, I don’t know who from I don’t know where. I don’t remembermuch but know that I was left at the orphanage and when I turned 15 I wasn’tallowed to stay. Too many little mouths to feed and I wasn’t worth the spaceaccording to the head mistress, Meghera. Kyria, the headmistress’ apprentice hadalways been kind to me. First by chasing me all over the village to learn thatI was always at the same place, the beach listening to the waves. And whenMeghera kicked me out she gave me food when she knew I couldn’t find my own orlet me stay the night when she saw me wandering the streets. She always said,“We won’t be making a habit of this!” as she shooed me inside. I can’t rely onKyria’s kindness forever, and I know that if the Mistress ever found out, Kyriawould be on the streets with me. That is why I am out here today. Trying tocatch my next meal, and maybe something I can trade.
I’m losing daylight and at this point, I’m losing patience. Where have all the fish been? This is my fourth day in a row out on this blasted boat and I haven’t seen a single ripple. I’d been hearing talk from the local mariners that there was a Wannapaign in the area. Wannapaigns are a legendary breed of fish that the locals believed still dwell in the nearby waters. Wannapaigns are notorious for their insatiable appetites, hunting anything that moves and their colossal size. The mariners were terrified of them. They are rumored to come from the fiery depths causing their tails to be made of flames that even the ocean cannot put out. According to the legends I heard as a child, few have encountered a Wannapaign and lived. They are said to hunt with their massive fangs made of the swords from the mighty warriors who tried to hunt them and failed.
Legends and stories.
They have always captivated me with their shrouds of mystery hidden behind shreds of truth. I’d never admit it, but I believe every one of them. Kyria would slap me on the arm and tell me to grow up if she heard me saying that. But maybe the Wannapaign is the reason I’m having such a difficult time catching anything. It’s probably eaten every living thing in the area. I’ve heard from the mariners that they won’t set an oar anywhere near here until they were sure the Wannapaign has gone. Some of the smarter mariners have chalked it up to the possibility that one lone fisherman is reaping all the benefits of an empty sea to himself. But I’m here now and don’t see anything, fish or beast. But it doesn’t really matter what I or the mariners think. If I don’t catch something soon, I’m will have to subject myself to more of Kyria’s ill-advised kindness.
The sun isgetting ready to disappear. I should probably head back to shore, empty handedagain. I’m pulling up my line and… what’s that? I see something. The water hereis incredibly clear and usually I can see almost to the bottom but with the sunsetting it’s more difficult to make out shapes beneath the surface. It lookslike an average fish but there’s something strange about it. It’s not moving,well, barely. It looks big, that much I can see. Could it be a shark? No, it doesn’tappear to have a dorsal fin and I’ve never seen a shark that big. Maybe it’s a juvenilewhale. Whatever it is, I have this strange feeling right in the pit of mystomach. Maybe I should be moving on and not waiting around to see what thatthing is. The sun is still going down and the wind has died, I’m going to haveto row my way back to shore.
I can’t help but stare at the creature, studying it there beneath the surface wondering what it is when the setting sun catches the light just right for me to see the creature’s tail. Moving slowly in the water, it looks like a giant sheet flowing in the breeze and it resembles copper with shades of yellow and red mixed in. It starts swimming closer. And now it’s moving faster, as if it had a new-found purpose. As it gets closer I find that it’s like nothing I’ve never seen a before. There is no dorsal fin like that of a whale or other porpoises and the pectoral fins are short, well short compared to the rest of it. The body is long, like a ship made for speed. Even from this distance I can see how massive and terrifying the teeth protruding from the beast’s jaws are as they contrast with the dark color of its scales. What is this creature looking for? I haven’t seen anything worthy of his attention all day. Then the beast turns and starts swimming in my direction.
I quickly get my oars into the water and start rowing back to shore. There isn’t anything else in this area except for me and I don’t think it would be wise to spend anymore time out here. As I’m rowing, I watch the creature moving faster toward me. I am still a great distance from the shore and I have a feeling I won’t make it there before whatever that thing is catches up to me. Panic is starting to set in, along with the realization I may not have time to panic. I quickly scan my supplies for anything I might use to defend myself should this thing try to attack my boat. Although this dinghy may float, it barely makes it through the waves when the weather gets a little tricky.
I’m still wondering where that thing came from as I try to up my speed. I can’t seem to put any real distance between myself and the beast. I have to think fast and that’s when I spot the knife I use for gutting fish. I wasn’t its first owner although I have taken much better care of it than whoever that was. It was covered in rust and the handle was nothing more than a thick twig when I found it. I was fortunate enough to find a discarded deer antler in the woods which I used as a new handle and then worked for days on the blade to remove the rust. The boat and this knife where my most prized possessions. Though I was happy to have the knife, that beast looked like he was covered in scale shaped body armor and I doubted my small weapon would do much to protect me. The fact remains, I need to get back to shore.
My arms are strong enough from the days I’ve spent out here when the wind was gone, I know I can make it back to the beach quickly. What worries me is that no matter how fast I can row, that beast is going to catch me. With his elongated body and enormous tail, he was made for catching swift prey. I glance back to the shore to see how much headway I have made. I am definitely closer now to the beach however, at the rate he is swimming I won’t make it in time.
Now that the creature has gotten close enough for me to make out how big it is, I can see it’s double the length of my boat which measures at about half a pole’s span. I’m still scanning my supplies as I row, trying to formulate whatever plan I can when I see my gaff. I forgot I brought it. I don’t ever catch anything big enough to need it, but I was feeling, well optimistic, and threw it in the boat this morning. It paled in comparison to the mariner’s gaffs that were made of bamboo which was imported from South Pakipika. My gaff, I made myself from salvaged parts of steel and pine and I’ve never used it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it fell apart as soon as it touched the water. I move my gaze toward the beast half expecting it to be only a short distance off now, but it’s not speeding forward anymore. It’s just wading there about two hundred yards away. I feel as if it’s toying with me. Getting my attention, then getting me moving to tire me out now waiting. These are some of the same tactics I have heard the mariners use to catch big fish. With their fast boats they charge through the water attempting to frighten the fish then get it moving to tire it out and weaken it. Then with the fish having exerted all its power they harpoon it and haul the line up. I think this beast is hunting me.
I take this false opportunity to stop rowing so I can reach for the gaff and wrap my fingers around it tightly. I am careful to not take my eyes off the beast this time, I don’t like surprises and I am certain he will make his final strike any moment. This is not like any fish I have ever seen. If it is hunting me, then could it be a Wannapaign? Is it real? My eyes aren’t lying, I know what I am seeing. Yes, I can see how this might resemble the fish I have only encountered in stories, but there are many differences. The tail is not made of flames. It was the color of copper which melted into a blazing red where the fin meets the spine. The massive protruding lower jaw seems to be the main thing that all the legends agreed upon with the terrifying sword-like teeth framing the beast’s mouth.
I look to the horizon and see that the sun is about the kiss the ocean. My sight will be gone when the sun has set. No doubt this beast doesn’t need the sun to find me. If this truly is the Wannapaign then the legends say they are fierce and cunning hunters, it’s also said their favorite prey is human. My vision is about to be gone, I need to do something before it’s too late. I can still row to shore once the sun is gone but I will need to prepare myself for the worse. I have taken the gaff and wrapped the rope I use to tether the boat to the docks around the handle of the gaff effectively making a Wannapaign, if that’s what it really is, sized fishing hook. Although the creatures of old seem clever in the legends, this is just a beast. No doubt ready to let hunger get the better of him. I have been in this boat four days and haven’t seen even a minnow. More than likely that thing has eaten everything in sight days ago and is desperate for more. If I had to guess, he’s been hungry for awhile now. He’s probably as desperate as I am. I tie the loose end of the rope to my waist. I lay the gaff and my knife across my lap and begin to row again. The beast isn’t moving. Maybe I panicked for nothing. I haven’t eaten much of anything in a day or two now, maybe my mind is playing tricks on me and it’s not even there.
I don’t make it more than five rotations of the oars when the beast shoots toward me. My stomach, which was aching just hours ago with hunger now twists with knots as uncertainty begins to overwhelm me. The beast is barreling toward me. I’ll be headed straight to a watery grave when he makes it to me. I suppose that isn’t so bad. Perhaps the Sea will treat me kinder than land ever has. I release the oars and firmly grasp the knife and the gaff. Although the thought of dying doesn’t seem so terrible compared to the life I’ve lived so far, the instinct to survive suddenly overwhelmed me as the space between me and the beast was closing. I took a final deep breath as the Wannapaign crashed into the boat and I dove into the water. Wood explodes everywhere but I barely notice. As I dive into the water, the creature is distracted while it tears into my boat. He is whipping his giant head back and forth as pieces of my boat are shooting in different directions and sinking. Now that I am in the water with the creature, I’m temporarily paralyzed by how truly terrifying he is. His eyes are the size of apples, his body is easily the length of a sail boat and his teeth, they are rows and rows of the deadliest hunting blades the size of swords.
A piece of the wreckage flies at me and snaps me back to the plan I came up with on the boat. It was ridiculous and sure to get me killed. But I have no other options now. I have spent the better half of my life fishing in these waters and even with that monster being the size it is, he’s still just a fish. With all my strength and while praying to anyone who will listen, I shoot the gaff out of my hand past the beast’s mouth. Instinct takes over and the beast snaps his massive jaws around the giant fish hook, like I expected. I thought the handle was sure to be crushed by the force of his bite but somehow it survives, and the creature takes off pulling me along by the other end of the rope. I have caught many fish but never quite like this. He is swimming so fast it’s a struggle to even open my eyes. I have never moved this fast in my life. I’m finally able to force my eyes open and see that I am dangling near his pectoral fin. I put the dull edge of my knife into my mouth, clamp down with my teeth and I use the rope to pull myself toward the beast’s face. He is swimming so fast, so full of the need to escape he doesn’t notice me. The rope is old, and the frayed fibers are biting into my skin as I am pulling with what little strength I have. As I pull myself toward his face one of his enormous scales catches on my leg. The feeling was like a giant seashell scraping against my skin. I don’t know if I’m bleeding now or not but I keep pulling myself. I am now looking directly into his eye. It has this shine to it, this must help him to see better in deeper waters. I wind the rope around my hand and hold tight. Then the Wannapaign surfaces but only for a moment. I use this time to refill my lungs with air through my nose before he shoots back into the water. My eyes adjust quicker this time to the water rushing at them. I wind the rope around my arm and hand several times to keep myself close to the beast’s face. With my free hand I take the knife from my teeth, pull my arm back and don’t hesitate as I plunge the knife into the Wannapaign’s massive eye.
Truth be told, I still don’t know if this is in fact a Wannapaign but at the moment I don’t care what it is. While on the boat I assumed the beast would have thicker than normal skin. Most larger sea creatures have thick skin to combat the cold temperatures of the water down deep. I knew I would need to find a weak spot if I had a fighting chance. Having felt that practically razor-sharp scale I knew that I was right. The creature, feeling the impact of my blow now realizes what’s happening and shakes his head from side to side. I hold on as tight as I can to the rope. I pull out the knife and without pause drive it back into the soft flesh of the beast’s eye. He keeps trying to jolt me from his face, whipping his head back and forth. But that hook is stuck fast with me tethered to the other end and I am determined to survive.
My arms are growing weaker by the second, one losing circulation from having the rope wound around it so tight and the other from striking the beast over and over again.
I can’t tell if it’s my senses slowing down or the creature, but it feels as if we are no longer moving at as high of speeds. Almost like he couldn’t maintain the speed for that length of time. I begin to feel light headed from what little air I have left in my lungs. I won’t last much longer.
My thoughts begin running together from the pain in my arms and the lack of oxygen.
I’m going to die.
My thoughts stop on what little of a life I have lived. I feel disappointment.
I begin to see sparks, I will black out and drown in a matter of minutes.
What will it be like to spend eternity in the ocean, forever floating?
I pull my knife back and with all the strength I have left I spear it as deep as I can into the beast’s eye one final time. He jerks his face violently to the side and with my legs so weak, he knocks me off balance. Blackness closes in around me. The only thing I can feel is floating. Weightlessness.
I feel the water, cradling me in its vastness. It’s calm and magnificent.
And then I feel nothing.
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