Beautiful, glorious, warm sunlight shone down on him as he stepped out onto the open deck of an enormous ship. Raithe closed his eyes and opened his arms out wide, letting the heat sink in through his gown, into his skin, his bones, his muscles. Down his spine to his bare feet. Then there was that salty, ocean breeze. It buffeted him, trying to push him forward and his gown flapped wildly in it. Pure, joyous laughter escaped his lips.
“Woah!” it was a boy who spoke. Maybe about the same age as that girl, or perhaps just shy of his teenage years. His eyes were open wide, looking around at his surroundings. Amazement and awe crossing his features.
He wasn't the only one though. Others were looking out passed the ship, into the big waters all around them. It stretched out farther than he could see. Farther than the horizon. And in the distance, was the silhouette of an island. Big and grey to his eyes, another shadow visible in the light. But not sinister, as were the shadows in his dreams. This island was vibrant with sounds and full of life.
Raithe looked up and watched as the wind brushed up against the sails and in turn, moved the ship. Seabirds soared, gliding on the wind currents, singing their raucous tunes. He breathed in the clean, crisp air.
“Didn't think I'd ever see any... well actually, I don't know if I've ever seen anything like this before but even if I have... this is... wonderful!” said the brown curly haired girl, as she walked up beside him. Her words came out a little too quickly and she didn't even seem to notice Raithe standing there as she spoke.
“Yeah,” he replied elated.
She turned to him and did seem to notice his existence for the first time. “Where do you think... we might be going?” she asked.
Raithe raised a hand and pointed. “That island!” he declared. He wasn't entirely sure, but it did seem like the most logical place. The closest. Maybe the ship would dock at the pier there, in order to replenish their supplies.
“Oh I see,” she said as she followed his gaze. Then she turned back to him and their eyes met. “My name is... Luna Krys. What's yours?”
“Raithe,” he told her.
The thunk... creak... thunk sounded as Wish walked calmly toward the center of the deck. Everyone turned to him with eagerness. The expectation that he would tell them what was happening and where he was taking them. Wish held up a hand even though he didn't need to, everyone had already gone silent. “As far as your memories go,” he said. “I can't tell you why they've been taken. I can say however, with an absolute certainty, that although you won't remember anything specific, the things you knew before coming here will remain in your minds. Think of it like... an instinct.”
“Where are you taking us?” the man with an accent asked.
“Yeah. Tell us,” Gin said. He draped one arm over Wish's shoulder which was probably meant to intimidate, but Wish simply stepped away.
For a moment, he hesitated. The expression on his faced twisted up into one of pain, but not the physical kind, and then it went back to normal almost as quick. Wish recomposed himself and then he raised a hand and pointed. “You are going to that island,” he said.
Raithe couldn't miss the emphasized word. You.”What... do you mean?” he asked carefully.
“To earn your places in this world, you must pass three tests. Swimming to that island will be the first.”
“Tch! Swimming? That's it?” said the accented man. “The island doesn't even look like it's that far away.”
Raithe turned away and approached the edge of the ship, peering out over the railing at that shadow in the distance. It really didn't seem to be all that far away. He shook his head. No... there had to be more to what they were being asked to do. Raithe looked at Wish once more, waiting for him to continue.
Wish raised an eyebrow. “Think it'll be that easy?” he fell silent, moving his gaze from one person to the next. Like a predator, sizing up its next meal. Finally, his eyes rested on a man in the back. A tall, thin individual. Arms crossed and he wore a skeptical expression. “Keith is it?” he asked.
The man nodded.
“Well Keith,” Wish said. “I want you to jump off.”
“And why should I do that?” he asked.
“So I can prove my point,” Wish said without the slightest bit of hesitation.
Keith furrowed his brow. “So I can be your test 'dummy' you mean?”
Wish shrugged. “You don't believe me anyway, about how difficult this first challenge will be. I mean, why would you? The island you are being asked to swim towards is right there after all and the waters appear to be quite calm this morning.”
The man's furrowed brow turned into a full on scowl and he stalked passed Wish and everyone else, pausing by the railing. He peered over and down.
“You don't believe me, so why hesitate?”
This gained an annoyed grunt by Keith and he stepped ever so carefully, over the railing. For a long and quiet moment, he just stood there on the ledge, looking down. It didn't seem like he would even jump at all. But then the man took in a big, preparing breath and lept off.
Raithe could have sworn he heard every single person on board – even Wish – breath in and watch. They held their breath as the man fell down through the air and the silence around them was of the deafening variety. Seabirds no longer flew, they no longer sang and it seemed almost like even the wind had stopped. Anticipation rose.
Their eyes all watched and it seemed as if minutes had gone by. Raithe even leaned over to stare at the plummeting man. The feeling in his gut however, told him something was terribly wrong about this situation. And then, all the answers to his questions, came at once.
It began with an air bubble. The kind made by someone who is rising for air but can no longer hold in their breath. Or perhaps, the kind made by a marine mammal surfacing. Only... this bubble was huge! About half the length of their ship and almost as wide. After another second, the bubble became level with the rest of the water once again. Another second. It reappeared. Another.
The bubble burst!
What he saw come out, was like one of those creatures that would only appear in a child's nightmare. Whale like in appearance, but its body was almost entirely black and as it jumped out of the water, it had a shadow large enough to envelop them all in it. Physically, it should have been impossible for a creature of that size to jump so high and with so much grace, but it did. Raithe could see the creature's fins. Long and wide, but they appeared like curtains that had been unfortunate enough to have been shredded by a cat's claws. As the black whale thing came closer and closer to Kieth, it opened that massive maw. Keith didn't even have time to scream before he fell in and the maw slammed shut.
Raithe staggered away from the edge.
Astonished gasps rose from a few of them and still others, stared. Shock and dismay now covered the features of their faces and a nervousness far greater than when they had all woken up, knowing nothing.
“Hmmm,” Gin said. “Now that is troubling indeed.” his tone betrayed his words however, as he spoke in a calm, steady and calculating voice. He was about the only one who didn't seem marred by what had just happened.
The man with the accent turned to Wish, fury in his eyes. “No way!” he shouted, clenching both fists. “I will not! You can't make us jump!”
Wish stood still, listening, looking the man over. Then he said calmly and quietly, “you will jump.”
The man shook his head and stepped backwards, away from the center.
Wish sighed, softening his expression. After a moment of quiet tension, he spun around in a circle, meeting the gaze of everyone present. Then he lifted a small, hand pistol and pointed it at the man with the accent. “I know what you're thinking,” he said. There was a slight quiver to the way he spoke this time. Fear and... something else within it, Raithe couldn't quite place. “How do you expect us to swim to that island, with that thing lurking just below the surface? Well... I'll tell you...” he continued. “What would be the point of these tests if they were not passable?” Wish spun around with the gun and everyone took at least one step back. Their faces all contorted with anger and fear. Dismay, fury.
The man with an accent raised his hands in a surrendering gesture. “Now now,” he said. “I'll jump alright. No need to be like that.”
But Wish did not lower the gun. He clearly did not want to force them all to swim for their lives in an ocean full of monsters, yet he held his ground. Was he being forced into this somehow? “There would be no point,” he said, answering his own question. “Some of you will survive because you are strong enough.”
“So this is a... survival of the fittest thing?” Gin asked.
Wish ignored him. “You are not the first group I've been asked to bring out here and you certainly won't be the last,” he said. His voice had become something like a mumble, just barely loud enough for them to hear. Wish was clearly fighting against his own sense of morality. “Anyway,” he said in a louder, more demanding voice. “Either jump now or get shot!” when no one moved he yelled. “WELL? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”
The finality was there. Either jump now or get shot. That was what he said and something in Raithe told him, Wish would kill every single one of them if he had to. They could either die by staying on the ship against what they were being asked to do, or they could jump off and at least have a little chance of survival. He breathed in deep and looked toward the edge. Alright Raithe, you can do this, that was the thought whirling around in his mind, but he didn't feel it. What he felt was more of a tugging, telling him to stay away from the ocean.
“Let's do this then!” the accented man said as he climbed... well... it was more like stepped over the railing. He jumped without hesitating and landed with a tiny splash in the water below.
Raithe climbed over the railing next, but he found he didn't have the same kind of resolve as that other guy. He stood on the ledge, staring into the deep. Strangely, the water here was surprisingly clear, he could see almost all the way to the bottom. The fact that he could see well in it, didn't do anything to quell his fears however. On the nape of his neck, stood up his hackles and true to his feline nature which apparently came with the feline parts, his tail poofed up. In an attempt to hide it, he wrapped his tail around his waist.
“We can... jump together,” Gisn said.
Raithe's head immediately shot to the left. He hadn't seen Gin climb over next to him, nor had Raithe heard the man. He had excellent hearing, so Gin must have walked across the deck with steps lighter than a mouse in order for Raithe not to notice him. “I... uh...” he said.
Gin smiled at him, a look of pure innocents. “Well?” he asked.
“A-alright,” Raithe replied. This man was obviously up to something. He ignored that part of his brain though which told him to be wary and suspicious. They would have a better chance if they swam in a group. Wouldn't they?
“We'll count to three and then jump.”
“You start,” Gin said.
“O-one,” he stammered.
The number two did not come up as Raithe felt something slide behind his feet. They were knocked out from under him and he had no chance to think as his head came down hard on the ledge and then... black.