Crimson clouds stained the water red.
As he tread in place, staring, watching, waiting, only one thought went through his mind then. He was going to die. Raithe knew that against waterborne creatures such as these, he would stand no chance of surviving. Not if one, with a maw of several hundred, sharp, dagger-like teeth, decided that he would be its next meal. Sure he had managed to kick one in the head, temporarily stunning it with one of the unique skills gifted to him by the world he was now a part of, but that was just a fluke. A random burst adrenaline which gave him just enough energy to retaliate at the time.
The truth of the matter was, all of this was new to him and he would need practice in order to become skilled with any of the abilities he was given. Raithe knew that discipline would be one of the key factors in his ability to survive, to ignore those basic, primal, instincts telling him to run, to swim away. And he was fighting those now. Fighting them because in the water, swimming away from a predator would mean his almost certain death.
And aside from all of that, there was still Luna who was out there somewhere. Alone and afraid. That little girl had saved his life earlier, when he had been knocked unconscious before falling. She brought him back and now it was his turn. Raithe furrowed his brow thinking. Where are you?
More panicked shouts and screams on the air, caused him to wince. Where the ocean had been like glass before, now it was a violent torrent. How water becomes disturbed when a school of piranhas attack their prey with veracious appetites. The small clouds of crimson grew big, spreading out as those serpents bit into their prey. Shaking their heads, wriggling their bodies, trying to shake as much meat off those corpses as they could.
His stomach flip flopped and Raithe felt he was really close to emptying it. If he wasn't in the middle of the ocean, without that pesky emotion fear controlling his ability to move and think more clearly, then he might have. He palmed his head hard enough for it to sting a little and he shook it. Those disturbing images vanished from his mind and a calmness began to take hold. Not the kind of peaceful calm one might get during meditation, but the kind someone might have when they become focused on a specific task.
Raithe breathed in... and then he swam.
Luna had not landed near him. Or if she had, she might have swam in the direction of the others and he figured there were two reasons she could have done that. The first was for the same reason he was, against everything his mind was telling him not to do. She swam away in order to look for him. But the water was clear and if she was already gone, that meant she would have recovered quicker. So Luna should have seen him quite easily.
That brought him to the second reason she would have swam away. To not be in a group when hunted, was to be vulnerable. She probably thought that joining the others would give her a better chance to survive. Whatever her reasons were, it didn't really matter. He was determined to find her.
As he came up to where the closest swimmers were, Raithe dived. He squinted his eyes, trying to see through the murk created by the serpents as they tore apart their food. He swallowed, trying not to think about that. Swimming through the life essence of other people was bad enough. A shiver which wasn't caused by the coldness of his surrounding environment, ran down his spine. Something had touched his shoulder.
Raithe whirled around and was about to Aqua Rise it, when he stopped. If he had been above water, he would have given a relieved sigh. Instead he just shook his head. The man with the southern accent was floating behind him, pointing up. So he wanted to talk then? Raithe nodded and kicked.
“You're crazy!” the man said as they surfaced. “No... wait... you're worse than crazy. You're insane!”
Raithe cocked his head and gave the man a puzzled look. “Insane?” he asked.
“Well yeah. You came to where those... those serpent things are hunting.”
He frowned. “You're here too,” he said.
“I'm here because... I didn't really have a choice. This is just where I ended up.”
“But you've had plenty of time during all this chaos, to escape,” Raithe said.
The man opened his mouth to speak, but he closed it again.
“A-anyway... I came here because I've got someone to find.”
“That girl?” the man asked.
Raithe nodded. “Not that it'll really matter right now because of... well... you know? But my name is Raithe.”
“Call me Sosuke,” the man said with a smile. “I'll help if ya want.”
“Thanks for the offer but... are you sure?” Raithe asked. The island he was pretty sure, could be swam to in just a couple of hours. Why would someone waste time out here, putting themselves in danger in order to help someone like him?
“Absolutely!” Sosuke said. “Besides, you need my help.” he gave Raithe a toothy grin.
“I need you?”
“Yeah well... I can see through this murk,” Sosuke answered. “My guess is that you can't?”
“No... I can't,” Raithe said carefully.
“Then it's settled,” Sosuke said as he slapped Raithe on the shoulder. “Follow me.” then he dived.
Raithe dived after him, into the disgusting, crimson red. Ahead, he could make out Sosuke's form and around, were the vague outlines of corpses. Serpents gliding with ease through their watery home. Something sank from the surface, ending up in front of him and he kicked and thrashed about, trying to get away from it. The head of one of those from the ship. Face permanently contorted in an expression of horror. Mouth open, eyes forever staring. He kicked it away and closed his eyes, trying to forget.
When he reopened them, Sosuke was there pointing up again. Both of them resurfaced for air.
“I don't... think she's down there,” Sosuke said.
“I am. Down there... is just a floor of sand and... none of the faces I've seen, were that of Luna.”
His ears perked up. Raithe became more alert and attentive. “You... you know her name?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Sosuke said. “We spoke briefly when we were still up there.” he pointed toward the ship which was now sailing away.
They fell silent for a time, listening to the wind, waves crashing, splashing in the distance as some had managed to escape the initial onslaught by those creatures.
“Are you sure... you didn't see her?” Raithe finally asked in order to break the silence.
Sosuke sighed and then nodded. “I'm sure,” he said. He turned his head toward the island. “I think that maybe... we should just go there. Get out of the ocean, get safe.” Sosuke looked back at him. “If she's alive, she knows that's where we have to go. I'm sure we'll find her there.”
“Right...” Raithe agreed. “Let's go.”
The island was further away than it had first appeared. Big on the horizon and even after two straight hours of swimming, didn't seem to be getting any closer. Dark clouds forming in the sky above them, told of an impending storm. They rumbled lightly, but no lightning yet took form. Wind picked up, creating bigger, more violent waves and swimming soon became a struggle. Not just because of the rough conditions, but also the lack of stamina he now possessed. Raithe didn't know if he would be able to make it.
“Here!” Sosuke said. He had to practically yell to be heard over the crashing waves and roar of the wind.
Ahead of them and a little bit behind, were a few of the remaining swimmers. Raithe glanced around and then scowled when he recognized Gin. The man had stopped and was now smiling in his direction, waving. When his gaze fell on another familiar figure though, he smiled. So as it turned out, Luna was alright. A little exhausted perhaps, but that was to be expected.
“R-Raithe!” she shouted once their eyes met. “S-sorry I left, I h-had to – ”
He raised a hand to stop her and shook his head. “It's alright,” he said. “Just glad to see that you're alright.”
“Alright as I c-can be,” she stammered.
He frowned. Of course... she was probably freezing. Being a lot smaller than most of them, meant that she didn't have much in the way of body mass in order to counteract the frigid temperatures they were now dealing with.
Every part of him froze, when right before his eyes, Luna was pulled under. It was an absolutely terrifying thing that had just happened and while his brain told him to swim away from that thing, his heart was saying the exact opposite. That it would be wrong to leave a friend. This internal struggle left him numb and unable to move, to do anything to save himself or the girl.
A hard slap on the back by Sosuke, brought his mind to where it should be. Pain can sometimes be an excellent motivator and now, he was motivated. Raithe dived down and his ears could also pick up the sound of Sosuke diving after him. He looked down and knew that he was lucky. The serpent could have carried her anywhere it wanted to, but instead it chose to continue sinking. Its body was wrapped around the girl and she struggled, pushing against its coil, trying to squeeze out. Her attempts at escape though, were futile. The creature did not budge.
Raithe kicked himself deeper as fast as he was able and used the skill jet in order to gain as much ground on the creature as he could. The using the same maneuver he had before, he did a quick little somersault and whacked it hard in the head, with the heel of his foot. It had the desired effect and the serpent let go, shaking its head in order to recover from that blow.
Luna swam up to him and Raithe grabbed her arm, using jet once again, to resurface as fast as he could. They never made it that far however, as a sharp, stinging sensation ran through his thigh and up his spine. Raithe nearly faltered and collapsed from the sudden shock of it. And then he noticed the surface, getting further and further away. At the same time, the pressure in his lungs was building up and he felt as if he was about to burst. Raithe swung the girl up and away from him. If he was destined to die in a watery grave, he didn't want to have her follow him.
Something unexpected happened then. He didn't know why it was unexpected, Sosuke after all, didn't seem like the kind of guy who would leave a friend behind either. The man had managed to catch up to Raithe and the serpent pulling him down and was now wrestling the thing.
Its jaws were still clamped tightly on Raithe's leg, but Sosuke had his arms around its neck, squeezing in order to force it to let go. While its head for the most part, remained still, the rest of it thrashed about violently. Trying with everything it had, to make Sosuke let go.
Raithe had to hand it to him, the man had an iron grip. It didn't seem to matter how big and strong those serpents were, if Sosuke could get his arms around it, there was no way he'd be letting go. Somewhere during the struggle even, while still holding on, he managed to reach over and grab the sides of its jaw in order to pry it open. He had a feeling though, that it wasn't Sosuke's hands that finally got the creature to release him, it was more or less the lack of air beneath the water.
From what he could see, those creatures didn't have gills which meant that in order for them to breath, they would have no choice but to go up and that was exactly what it did as soon as it released him.
From the constant throbbing in his leg, exhaustion and the pressure in his lungs telling him to breath, Raithe nearly collapsed. Sosuke however, appeared on one side of him and Luna on the other, both grabbing an arm and hauling him back up to where he could get air. And they had just reached the surface and taken a big breath, when something slammed into him!
Raithe went tumbling through the water, head over heels. Everything spun around him and it took his entire will to right himself once again and focus enough to force the spinning to stop. When he finally came too, not only was his leg in a perpetual state of continuous throbbing, but one whole side of his body ached. To test how his bones had managed to hold out against that force, he twisted his neck, pumped his entire arm in a circular motion, bent it, twisted his wrist around and moved his fingers. Nothing was broken.
“Raithe!” Sosuke shouted.
“I... okay...” Raithe said in between a couple of coughs.
“Well that's a relief, can ya still swim?” Sosuke asked.
“Let's go then.”
They didn't get very far before the serpent caught up and slammed into them. All three, sending them all in different directions. After the first round with the creature, Raithe found it easier to regain control. He flipped himself right side up again and used jet one last time to catch up to it. This time he twisted and side kicked it right in the head, sending the creature spinning away.
Immediately he regretting kicking the creature, because the leg he had used, was the one that had been bitten. Raithe gritted his teeth against the pain. His vision became blurry and he had to bite his arm just to keep himself from passing out.
A rush of wind blew around them, disturbing the water, sloshing it around and the waves were becoming massive towers, crashing down upon them. In the sky, thunder thrummed repeatedly, a low, continuous drum beat and lightning flashed. He tried to ignore the signs around them. Warnings of increasingly bad weather which alone, could end all their lives. Especially him, in the state he was in. Not to mention, the rough ocean now, made it harder to see what was right below them. Lurking around, hunting in the chaos.
Through the waves, Raithe could barely catch a glimpse of Sosuke and Luna right beside him, holding his arm tightly. The man was no longer using words to communicate. Raithe could see why. Even with his excellent hearing, he wouldn't be able to catch anything Sosuke would say, over the sound of thunder, torrent of wind and crashing waves. Instead, the man was pointing.
To the island, would have been the words if he had actually spoken.
Yes, the island, Raithe thought as he ignored the pain in his leg and the rest of him. They had to be close now. If they could make it that far, they would be safe. At least for the time being. He forced himself to move, to swim and catch up to them.
Every stroke forward was a struggle and it seemed that no matter how fast he swam, Luna and Sosuke swam faster, always staying just out of reach. Then something strange began to happen all around him. The same, black, gooey substance which made up those serpents, was now streaming along with the water current, passed him. It went in the direction of his two friends and Raithe fought with abandon, to catch up.
Before his eyes, those black tendrils of goo came together. Swirling, writhing around, forming into something huge. Another serpent, a giant. If those smaller serpents were like ants, this thing... this thing was like an eagle. Its enormous form towering over them. It too had a black body, elongated like a snake, but appeared more like some kind of sea dragon. Huge, elegant fins were approximately in the same place as on those other serpents. Its head was armored with a carapace helmet and it stared at them with big, hungry eyes. The creature let out a mighty roar! Then it crashed down.