Note: This short story is set after the events of The Road to Hell (Multiverse #3) by David Weber and Joelle Presby. In the Multiverse of those series novels, two worlds spanning human civilizations occupy their own chains of Earths connected through naturally occurring portals. They have been at war since first contact on Hell’s Gate when a powerful telepath, the daughter of the Sharonan Cetacean Ambassador Shalassar, broadcast the defeat of her Sharonan unit of explorers by an Arcanan military exploration force. The Arcanans have magic, often placed in crystals and used to control magically created animals from dragons and griffins to three-headed hydras. The Sharonans have telepaths and steam power level technology. While the Arcanan magic beasts have been an aerial force and a logistical powerhouse, the intelligent whales, dolphins, and orca back on the Sharonan home world have not previously involved themselves in the humans’ conflict.
A seal-sized shadow flippered along the surface. It looked so delicious. The orca Teeth Cleaver wanted it. He powered up from the blue-black deep ready to feast on marbled fat and mouthwatering seal steak. Tired down to his very cartilage, a warm-blooded meal would do very nicely.
But an overly spiny reef creature darted past his jaws, and he snapped at it in pure reflex. The shell’s taste was vile, but his belly felt ready to eat itself, he was so hungry.
The shadow above resolved into a narrow hull and oars.
Teeth Cleaver’s belly growled in dissatisfaction. He couldn’t eat a human.
The thing in his mouth gave a frantic wriggle and he pinned it between his teeth. One doesn’t torment the prey, one eats it.
He chewed barely enough to crunch the spiny thing’s shell and swallowed. The crustacean had an aftertaste of stagnant coast waters and the texture of sea snails.
Teeth Cleaver looked up and gave a mental sigh. It was still only a human up there, not an acceptable meal.
But Sharp Sharp had followed at his side. She’d slowed when he paused, but only out of caution in an unfamiliar ocean. Too late, he remembered the twisted rules of that other ocean.
Her fins gave an eager shiver and she lunged upward.
Whale shit! She was going to eat the human!
::NOT FOOD!:: A dolphin chirped at top volume, its small-bodied voice shrill with horror.
::Mine.:: Sharp Sharp responded.
::No!:: Teeth Cleaver bellowed finding his voice a moment too late.
The white and black orca at his side had already flared her tail flukes to begin a powerful surge towards the surface.
A gray blur streaked past Teeth Cleaver’s flank, and the daring bottlenose rammed into Sharp Sharp’s side. The orca careened off course, howling wordless rage.
Teeth Cleaver dove between the two before Sharp Sharp could close her jaws around a dolphin body in lieu of the human one.
::We don’t eat allies.:: Teeth Cleaver said. It should’ve gone without saying, but he’d had to say it several times already.
::Careless for ones grown so large, your pigfish.:: Sharp Sharp’s gaze flicked back and forth at the closest members of the dolphin pod escorting them. ::Marbled almost, they are…:: She paused as their rise through the ocean layers brought them a trailing taste of the furthest dolphin, the survivor, who swam with difficulty and a wound newly re-opened by the exertion. Her words were rough as if she was trying to communicate something that didn’t quite fit into the Sharonan cetacean language. ::Seasoned. But, much too quick for now. Maybe next hunt.:: The tone was wistful as if the dolphins would always be beyond reach.
Teeth Cleaver wanted very much to reassure the scrappy Arcanan orca, who thought of herself only as a whiteblack, that they could absolutely catch and eat any one of these dolphins if ever they chose to.
But he’d also much rather that she didn’t try it.
Sharonan marine life of all types lacked the gaunt, near-starved look of the natural creatures from the Arcanan ocean. With time in these rich Sharonan waters, Sharp Sharp ought to put on more fighting weight herself. At least enough of it not to shy from some overfed bottlenose pod.
Tougher-than-usual gray ones formed the wall of nearer dolphins, and, Teeth Cleaver realized on closer examination, all of the ones beyond were as well. These dolphins had kept all their pod’s new mothers, elderly, and youngest elsewhere. The respect implied was pleasing.
Sharp Sharp’s fear was rather less so.
Above, a human creature too ignorant to understand paddled on. The young woman’s tanned, not-to-be-chewed-on, arms sculled a barely seaworthy one person hull out past the reefs.
::Not a seal,:: Teeth Cleaver explained again. ::We don’t eat the Two Legs.::
A few dolphins had gone through the new small portal to look about, as dolphins did. And not returned. So. The great whales had sent for the orca. Teeth Cleaver had arrived first. He had gone and returned, as orca do.
There’d been a fight, of course, with plenty of injuries on all sides, but Teeth Cleaver had missed it. He hadn’t managed to eat any of the enemy, and it was making him grouchy. The surviving Sharonan dolphin he’d found had squeaked out a frightened exaggeration of a report of course, but it was missing all the most useful details. What had the opponents tasted like? They had had three heads, okay, but had they moved with interesting cunning like a great white or had they been like so many startled eels that had to be cornered and frightened to make for a decent fight?
And there was the matter of the deeply scarred and half-starved female Arcanan orca Sharp Sharp who’d trailed along behind the Sharonan dolphin and now swam beside Teeth Cleaver to come meet the elders. She’d moved like some sort of ocean scavenger following prey injured by a stronger predator and hoping it fell from the injury, so she could eat. Orca were ill suited to diplomacy, but they could fit through the portal.
::Don’t eat this. Don’t eat that.:: Sharp Sharp began a low sing-song complaint which carried far too well to the hard-nosed dolphins keeping pace beside them. ::Oh, but my second cousin married a sea turtle, we can’t eat those.::
::We can eat turtles.:: Teeth Cleaver interjected. A moment’s further thought compelled him to add, ::Not that I’d want to. Icky shell bits get caught in the back of the mouth and make everything taste gritty for days.::
Sharp Sharp ignored him, expanding her objections. ::And those giant squid can add without even using their tentacles to count, we can’t have them for snack anymore.::
::Squid eat each other.:: Teeth Cleaver was getting annoyed now. ::They don’t get to claim protected status from the great whales for intelligence while engaging in cannibalism on the side.::
::Whales are a myth,:: Sharp Sharp said.
What? No! She couldn’t possibly think— Teeth Cleaver’s mind slammed against the impossible idea.
To imagine an ocean with so few whales that an orca of hunting age did not believe in them was, was, twisty enough only a squid could think it!
Sharp Sharp wiggled a fin at him in amusement at his shock, an orca’s natural grin finally showing through on the scarred killer whale’s face. Her eyes gave a little roll as if he were being quaintly superstitious instead of roiling inside from the shock of her comment.
::Besides us, of course,:: Sharp Sharp amended. ::I mean the mighty thinkers two or more whiteblack lengths.:: She bared teeth in derision as if about to say something only a very foolish and quite young orca calf would believe. ::Or even five plus lengths in the truly ridiculous stories. Those ones the legends say used to lay down laws for the ocean and so forth that are said to be the color of your over-muscled pigfish.::
The space between the two orca and the dolphin pod stretched as the smaller marine mammals thought and rethought about an ocean without whales.
Sharp Sharp swam on.
A trick of the ocean light filtering down on her too thin black and white body gave her a shark like appearance. She flicked her dorsals this way and that, drifting first at an angle to glance up at the human, and then to the sides, considering the dolphin pod plunging up and down beside them.
Teeth Cleaver could hear the deep-water song change. This ocean did not lack for whales. His mind continued down the twisty currents Sharp Sharp had suggested. In the Arcanan oceans, the orca pods called themselves whiteblacks, and they called their rarely sighted dolphin and porpoise species pigfish.
And ate them.
Difficult to blame those orca. Bottlenose dolphin had such a melt in your mouth flavor. The texture was not quite as soft as a delicate bite of white tuna, nor was the tang as savory as shark liver, but it did make a fine meal according to the orca histories.
But back years and years past in this very Sharonan ocean, when the dolphins had been eaten, the waves themselves had seethed almost to a boil with the rage of the great whales. Teeth Cleaver considered the inherited memory. The blood and pulped flesh of orca in a horrific seawater stew was a flavor remembered in the histories too. When those tastes had drifted in the currents, the orca youths deemed too immature to be punished for a pod’s inappropriate diet choices had been bathed in the revolting soup made from the body parts of their own kind.
The surviving dolphin elders, once they’d managed to recapture the great whales’ attention, had insisted on the orcas’ young being moved further away. Such was the way of the gray-finned in Sharonan oceans. Embarrassing.
Teeth Cleaver changed the subject.
::Tell me about your tentacled sea monsters. The new ones. Florescent coloring like our poison-fish, but not actually related, you were saying.:: Teeth Cleaver focused in on the important part. “And parts are edible, you said. How do they taste?::
High on the surface of the water, Cetacean Institute Intern Pelgra Forminara thought she was having a very bad day. Just this morning, the Flicker post mail had informed her to expect her pickup boat to arrive in four weeks instead of three.
She’d been already out for a full week on the benighted atoll, subsisting on dried fruit and now seven-day-old travel bread that hadn’t even tasted good when fresh. Her arms hurt. The part in her hair had sunburned.
And thanks to an unfortunate sea gust, she’d lost her hat. Again.
The ugly straw monstrosity dipped in the valley between the rolling wave mountains. She straightened in her deep-sea kayak and squinted against the sun glare on the waves. Several forms swam beneath. Maybe one of them might bring her back the hat?
::Um, gentlemind?:: Pelgra sent out in mindspeech, trying hard to be calm and formal and not ‘squeaky as a porpoise chew toy but less interesting.’
A dolphin fin broke the surface, and she leaned back in delight. Dolphins always help. Except this one streamed straight past without even a greeting and—
What on all the worlds? A bloom of blood curled after in its wake.
A black and white form well covered with the small scars of those nautical combats the orcas sought out for themselves soared out of the water and landed again in an awkward belly flop as if it had tried to attack the dolphin and missed. Was that Teeth Cleaver?
“You beast!” Pelgra yelled at it, forgetting in her shock to use her Talent of Cetacean Mindspeech.
::Allowances for Sharp Sharp,:: a mindvoice from deeper below sent to her. His tone conveyed a flash of teeth and a tail flip somehow implying a sense of diving to pressures almost too much to handle. ::She’s, ah—:: The second orca failed to come up with an explanation beyond another mental image emphasizing crushingly deep waters.
Chagrined, she recognized the second orca’s mindvoice as Teeth Cleaver. So that other killer whale who’d snapped at the dolphin was Sharp Sharp.
“I need you to know our cetaceans by the tips of their fins. If you don’t, you’re useless to me.” Pelgra remembered Ambassador Shalassar saying once in a speech to the embassy staff.
Her face flushed a darker red than her worst sunburn. This wasn’t a fair test! Orca do not all look alike. Not to me. I was just startled. Pelgra tried to reassure herself, embarrassment turning into anger.
Sharp Sharp ducked under the water, denying the intern a chance to study her fins and scars. The orca circled under the boat’s little keel, rudely made no mindvoice greeting, and rose on the other side. Pelgra leaned far out.
She smacked the killer whale across the nose with her bare hand and screamed at it.
::You do not pretend to eat dolphins! Especially not the elderly ones who have trouble swimming! You—:: Pelgra trailed off too flustered to come up with an insult both appropriate to the situation and acceptable coming from a very junior representative of the Cetacean Institute.
The thin black and white whale turned her lithe body against a cresting wave in an expression of shock. The slight marks she’d initially noticed proved to be deep and many. Some older scars made rings like massive suction cups had formed them, and the image of an octopus large enough to leave that size injury distracted Pelgra for a moment. Then she remembered the exhausted dolphin flying by with a trail of actual blood. She smacked Sharp Sharp’s nose harder.
The orca dove and vanished under the waves.
As well it should. She checked the horizon and caught the glint of sun on a dolphin back. The fleeing injured one? She couldn’t tell. She was supposed to be better at cetacean identification by now.
::Do you require assistance, gentlemind?:: Pelgra projected at the top of her mental range, trying not to squeak. She sent in the general direction the dolphin had gone. He might need help. I can do that. I’m not useless to the Cetacean Embassy. I’m not. She had thumbs and even some few medicines and bandages back at the atoll, if the cetacean were hurt enough to accept them. “I can help.” Arrgh. That had been spoken aloud and not in mindspeech at all. She focused and sent as loudly as she could manage, ::I can help!::
Difficult to tell with only the brief glimpse, but the injured dolphin hadn’t actually seemed all that old or infirm. Maybe some older calf dolphins had teased an orca and gotten too close? But that made no sense, even the most playful of dolphins weren’t that stupid. The billowing waves gave her no clues. The cetaceans below in the deep didn’t choose to give her any explanations either. Many minds swam in shoals and pods down there.
::Friend dolphin?:: She tried again. ::I have medicines.:: And thumbs, if she could only paddle back to the island fast enough to put either the hands or the cures to work.
That second call she sent out finally got an answer. A single musical tone hummed back in a wash of cetacean mindspeech. The sound didn’t have a human language equivalent and Pelgra stretched to remember what it meant.
::Unpleasant duty for grown creatures, please don’t stress your little flippers,:: her memory supplied. It was a refrain of a porpoise nursery song.
Oh great, she thought, now they’re talking to me like I’m a newborn.
But, the dolphin had sent it at a volume which added a panic-stricken undertone of wailing for the big whale to please, please, please swim faster. It sounded almost like a whisper of ::wild one gone rabid:: might have been added at the end by a barely detectable hum from a chorus of minds below.
Was there a full pod of dolphins down there? Pelgra stared at the waves with a dubious expression. She’d been warned that a mind sometimes played tricks with itself out in the ocean and that she’d need to take regular breaks from her cetacean language study.
Not that an intern was supposed to ever be idle. There’d been a tidy little pile of cetacean embassy account books with lists of this and that fishy treat. Things purchased. Portions dispensed. Amounts paid. Wastage. Lots of rows of numbers to check and recheck. Trying her hand at an audit of sorts had been recommended.
But the waves were beautiful, and the porpoise pod who’d visited last week was so charming, and so she’d skipped a few of those mindspeech breaks, or maybe a lot of those so-called breaks.
Whatever. A dolphin had been injured. That, her mind had not imagined. She felt a surge of guilt at smacking the orca.
But it couldn’t really have been at fault. An orca would never intentionally bite a thinking creature. Or at least not a fellow mammal. Or not a fellow mammal during this particular century and with the large-mind whales so close and listening. She was almost sure. An orca wouldn’t do that. Except that she thought it had.
Pelgra paddled hard in the direction the injured gray creature had come from and spotted three more dolphins rising from the depths, flitting near and then back below in flashing silver shadows. Oh. Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll. Pelgra brimmed with pleasure at recognizing the three adventurous bottlenose dolphins.
There below she spotted the orca Sharp Sharp again.
It snapped at them! She saw it clearly.
“You! No! Bad orca!” Pelgra both yelled aloud and screamed at it in mindspeech. She slammed her oar flat against the water in emphasis. That noise attracted enough of the killer whale’s attention to get it to surface near her little boat.
She raised her hand to whack it again when Mmmmunnnll surged up, striking the side of her hull. The boat spun sharply left.
Pelgra flailed with the oar to keep from capsizing. Sharp Sharp’s wide mouth closed on the air where her shoulder had been a moment ago.
Pelgra’s jaw dropped in outraged disbelief. That hadn’t just happened. No orca would do that. She would’ve lost her whole arm if the dolphin hadn’t pushed the little skiff at just that right moment.
The massive shape of Great Holhata rose from the ocean depths and his huge sperm whale back shouldered between her and the impossibly rude creature. Pelgra shook in barely contained fury. With great reluctance, she forced herself let go of the problem.
The large-mind, as the cetaceans referred to the lords of the sea, would manage everything. Besides, she felt Great Kahla deep below also singing an inquiry.
If it were some passing madness, two large-minds were more than capable of arranging a monitored convalescence. If it were pure mischief, well, the laws of the sea were cold and this particular orca would never bother anyone or anything ever again.
Pelgra flinched when a second black and white shape surfaced to float alongside her boat. An old scar ran over the left eye spot, she recognized Teeth Cleaver.
The familiar orca flashed a trace of a smile and shouldered her hull away from Great Holhata’s body.
::Head on home now, Little Crazy Fists,:: he said, and the dolphin Llllooouooo bumped the stern of her boat to start her towards the atoll. Nnnnmmmll dared a burst of speed past Teeth Cleaver to dart in and drop off her straw sun hat.
She fished it out of the water and restored it to her head. It dripped everywhere getting water in her eyes. Teeth Cleaver didn’t make any snide remarks.
Mmmmunnnll lingered long enough to press a friendly dolphin nose against her arm before darting away. Teeth Cleaver didn’t even jostle Mmmmunnnll to prove that he could’ve caught the dolphin if he wanted to.
This was not how killer whales acted. Polite. Respectful. And that Crazy Fists title was a new one for her. She’d been: Paddles Too Slow most recently, Lobster Face for her sunburns before that, and The New It still prior to that.
Pelgra picked her hat back off her head, shook it vigorously, and then redeposited it on her head, too tired to bother with the mystery of one horrible orca and another strangely respectful one.
The dolphin’s report to Great Holhata and Great Kahla on the bad orca Sharp Sharp washed in and out of her cetacean speaker range. She could tell the dolphin spoke but none of the words came through clearly. The whole purpose of her deep ocean assignment was to work on her Talent. So, she focused her mind as she paddled, making the long smooth motions slower than she needed to, and she listened.
::No invalid, I!:: The words filtered through with odd clarity among the mess of more distant chatter, and while the voice was clearly the orca Sharp Sharp’s mindspeech, it had rough unfamiliar tones as if it were in some accent Pelgra had never encountered despite having conducted ocean studies on every single one of Sharona’s seven seas. Pelgra had expected something more apologetic or at least on topic to biting at dolphins, but instead Teeth Cleaver interjected citing some old killer whale song about tuna liver to rebuild strength. . . . And she couldn’t make out what else.
Snatches of something Llllooouooo said sounded a little bit like an old orca war ballad, but coming from a dolphin, that couldn’t be right.
As an adult, Pelgra’s direct range wasn’t likely to grow much no matter how hard she worked at it, but there was a whole ocean of difference between hearing a cetacean and having any idea what it was saying.
The adult sperm whales usually understood all Sharonan languages better than Pelgra understood the varying cetacean dialects, and she’d also been taught that a person’s mindspeech projections could sometimes reach further than her own reception. The dolphins were easily distracted fun-loving creatures according to both her studies and her experience. They might have already forgotten what had happened to one of their own. So Pelgra projected a stream of details about her last few minutes, and adding that little bit of a mental hum which seemed to help with her range, she sang out a report for Great Holhata’s consideration.
At the end of it, she sent a forceful comment towards Sharp Sharp’s distant mind blur. ::Bad orca. Don’t bite dolphins!::
She repeated the image of the dolphin trailing blood in front of her little boat and the orca coming up after it and sent the picture to Great Kahla too just in case her words hadn’t quite captured what had happened clearly enough.
No one answered her. With some reluctance, Pelgra paddled away.
The swishing oar sound faded and the deep croon of whale song made a lullaby of the sea. The discord of the killer whales’ complaints in response stood out sharply.
Below, Sharp Sharp had moved past the gibbering stage to complete disbelief with a speed Teeth Cleaver found commendable, if still rather suicidal. His fellow orca paused in her ranting about tentacled beasts and the impossibility of the two whales before them actually existing to comment on the human. Her language flitted back and forth between clarity and a squid-like disregard for decent grammar whenever Sharp Sharp found some Sharonan thing disturbing. The former New It Pelgra disturbed the foreign orca.
::I whiteblack of sharp teeth and sharp mind. What means this two leg saying ‘orca’?::
Pelgra jerked. What?
That was Sharp Sharp, she was certain, and sending directly at her which explained how she’d been able to hear that when the conversation with the large-mind had been so much more muted.
::Paddle on, Crazy Fists,:: Teeth Cleaver said.
A dolphin escort bumped her boat another time and shook her concentration. She missed what Great Kahla had to say, which meant Her Largeness wasn’t singing to Pelgra.
She felt the large-mind’s song fall out of the edges of her speaker range as the current caught her boat, but she called out anyway, ::Leave the dolphins alone!::
::It speaks?:: she thought she heard Sharp Sharp say.
That can’t be right, Pelgra thought. All cetaceans know some humans have mind Talents. This one mustn’t have known the embassy had put somebody at the training atoll. That’s all.
Pelgra shook her head at her own foolishness. She was being too hard on herself. The cetaceans weren’t perfectly informed about the doings of their two-legs any more than the humans were informed on cetacean interests. A certain passing fascination with railroads they’d had came to mind. She laughed and the sound felt comforting and normal.
Pelgra shook her head and paddled back to the island, smiling. She’d take a break and do some accounting homework. This’ll be an odd little thing to put in the week’s dispatch. I’ll tell them about losing my hat and a dolphin braving a swim past two orca to bring it back to me, and I’ll tell about Great Holhata showing up and turning the mischievous orca into perfect gentleminds. It’ll make Ambassador Shalassar laugh. She brightened at that. The head of the Cetacean Embassy hadn’t smiled in too long.
And with more satisfaction than she’d had in days, Pelgra tied up her boat to the little dock and headed in to write up the morning report beginning with the usual line: ‘No significant issues to report.’
Swimming towards the portal, Great Kahla and Great Holhata listened to the envoy. Teeth Cleaver thought the foreign orca had recovered from her shock at meeting not one, but two, living legends rather well. And the human embassy’s intern was developing nicely. She was Crazy Fists now. Teeth Cleaver smiled in appreciation of how far the New It had come. Pelgra—he did know human names even if orca rarely used them—was on track to be almost as interesting as Shalassar herself. Crazy Fists’s accusations had been immediately discounted by the reporting dolphin, a tough hearted creature who’d been annoyed to have his story of valor interrupted.
The details were hardly believable. First a fight between three headed sea dragons with humans strapped to their backs while other humans watched from flying carpets? And then a combat in another part of the foreign sea almost the same but with some oddly shaped jellyfish who mostly died immediately under the talons of the largest hydra and with the humans watching from more substantial boats? Finally, a creature of many limbs not far from the portal entrance where he’d met Teeth Cleaver and that creature had a numbing sting which paralyzed even a pod of orca? Any credible report should include at least a few flavors.
The dolphin was excused by the whales to go rest before Teeth Cleaver could ask it any questions.
Sharp Sharp supplied a fuller account of Arcana’s oceans. The dragon type hydra, also called seadrakes, tasted much like moose. (On Sharona, a lucky orca might sometimes catch moose swimming between islands off the coast of north western New Ternathia. Arcanan orca had the same experience though Sharp Sharp’s pod rarely traveled to that ocean, preferring to stay nearer the coast of the human nation called Mythal.) Hydra meat was rich and gamey, but its scale hide was tougher than alligator. So, one needed a good angle to chew all the way through it.
Sharp Sharp had swum quickly past a sliver of an apology for the multiple bite attempts and moved on to more interesting things, specifically: tactics.
::When they swallow you,:: Sharp Sharp said, ::you must tear through the stomach lining no matter how vile it tastes.::
The dolphins, Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll, flicked tails in disbelief.
Sharp Sharp made a snarling sound more like a tiger than anything aquatic. ::You have gods swimming among you and you don’t believe in devils?::
::You can eat your way out?:: Nnnnmmmll said finally, putting the doubt into words.
Sharp Sharp made a complete barrel roll of contempt. ::Of course not. You can eat your way in. Tear through the stomach lining to reach the other organs. Get the heart, or at least the liver. They have three heads, usually, but only one heart. Get it, even a small bite of it, and they die. The pod lives.::
::The pod lives.:: The dolphins chorused back in complete understanding.
The pair of large-minds swam beside them, listening. Their massive sperm whale bodies eclipsed the streaming light from the high surface whenever the orca or dolphins found themselves drifting below.
Shoals of fodder fishes teemed between the massive whales and everyone ate, preparing for battle.
::And if the monster’s mouths are too small?:: Teeth Cleaver inquired.
::Those thin necks,:: Sharp Sharp flashed a brilliant and vicious grin, ::are battle rations. They are provided by the enemy,:: she acknowledged, ::so sometimes they are seasoned interestingly.:: Her tongue lolled out in some remembered gastro delight.
::Puffer fish like poisons?:: The dolphin Mmmmunnnll inquired.
Our little gray ones are meat eaters too, Teeth Cleaver thought with approval.
Sharp Sharp gave a snort. ::Not just those. It’s the magics and spells from the Two Legs that a finned fighter must watch for. They cheat, the Two Legs do.::
::There’s no such thing as magic.:: The dolphin Llllooouooo said.
::Fool yourself if you like.:: Sharp Sharp laughed. ::But eat the Two Legs at every opportunity. If you must choose to bite either a three head or a two leg, always bite the two leg.::
Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll all spluttered in overlapping objections and were cut off by Great Holhata, who spoke.
::WE DO NOT EAT THINKERS.:: The great whale laid down the law of the sea.
He had said it softly, for a large-mind, to avoid injuring the orca and dolphins, but Teeth Cleaver still had to drift stunned for a moment until the sound’s force wave brushed over him and he re-emerged on the inside of the rolling thunder.
::They eat us,:: Sharp Sharp retorted.
The dolphins squealed and swam hard, away from the whales and orca, expecting a stunning wall of sound to pulverize the impudent foreigner and anyone stupid enough to swim near her.
Teeth Cleaver dove between Sharp Sharp and Great Holhata, the closest of the two whales. ::Truth can be sung. Bad tasting or not.:: he reminded them.
::Mostly they eat pigfish,:: Sharp Sharp continued with a conversational tone indifferent to the anger of ones who could make her otic capsules bleed with a word. ::We,:: She bared teeth crooked and battered from a life fighting monsters. ::are harder to kill.::
The whiteblacks of the other seas may fear the starving times, but they swim into the teeth of all lesser challengers. Teeth Cleaver, proud to be orca, faced the judgment of Great Kahla and Great Holhata at Sharp Sharp’s side.
But the whales dove. A deep chasm of water opened between them and the rest of the cetaceans. ::DISCUSSION.:: A single tone passed between the two as their tails powered them down.
::To Kill a Monster Is Not Murder,:: Great Kahla said, the distance attenuated her voice to merely deafening instead of stunning.
::And The Two Legs of Arcana Are Monstrous,:: agreed Great Holhata.
::All of them?:: Teeth Cleaver inquired. Specificity in these things was important.
::You May Use Your Discretion, Small Whale,:: Great Kahla said.
::Take Back the Waters. Go. We Bless It.:: Great Holhata said.
::The whales’ blessing.:: Sharp Sharp rolled her eyes, but only, Teeth Cleaver noticed, after they’d passed through the portal into Arcana. ::Be more useful if they’d get that ocean floor hollowed out a little bit more so they’d fit through with us. Blessings don’t eat the hearts of your enemies. You saw the size of their tails. Imagine what they could do to a seadrake, or to a floater barge.::
Teeth Cleaver’s belly hurt from the tight squeeze against the volcanic rock of the ocean floor. No large-mind would be fitting through the portal this century no matter how many blue whales blasted the ocean floor with ear-bleeding sound. Worse, of the two sides of the unusually small opening between worlds, the Sharonan side of the narrow passable crescent of the circular portal arced over a deep murky sand while the Arcanan side was located equally far beneath the ocean surface over a cooled flat of volcanic rock. Any carving would have to be done from the Arcanan side by cetaceans small enough to fit through it. The resulting flat arch of free flowing water space was high enough, barely, to admit a sufficiently motivated orca but not an adult whale.
Teeth Cleaver powered up from the portal. The three dolphins trailed him, fearful. Sharp Sharp’s white belly flashed above, already streaking up towards the surface with no pause.
This Arcanan ocean tasted wrong. Something faintly poisonous lingered too diffuse now to harm, but that wasn’t enough to explain the dullness of ocean flavor. There was an emptiness. Why did the sharks leave so little blood in the water?
Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll swam close, lingering with Teeth Cleaver as if he were part of their pod.
A chorus, unintelligible, but clearly a battle chant rumbled above.
::My pod!:: Sharp Sharp swam delighted circles, ::They live!::
And nearly a score of battered and emaciated whiteblacks emerged in the murk around them.
The dolphins fled.
Mere moments later a surge of small fishes blasted out of the deep at them.
::Great Kahla sends,:: Mmmmunnnll squeaked the announcement, and kept his distance.
::Eat those,:: Llllooouooo encouraged.
::Not us,:: Nnnnmmmll added.
Teeth Cleaver twitched his tail. Whales. Not entirely useless after all, he noted Sharp Sharp’s surprise with a touch of Sharonan pride.
The leader of the Arcanan orca pod eyed the dolphins with an air of deep consideration. The tough-looking whiteblack said something, and it was utter gibberish. The sung tones of intelligent speech were there but the mindvoice was only the faintest whisper and even the notes failed to align with a normal scale or string together in a comprehensible melody.
::Agreed, Hard Fin says.:: Sharp Sharp translated.
The lead orca let out a blast of noise that certainly included a deep objection. The orca’s left dorsal fin had a jagged edge where something had bitten off the edge of it. The fin had healed with a bumpy scar that had been stretched and bent by growth spurts.
Sharp Sharp hummed something back and then translated again. ::His Self-Importance wants his full name announced, so now I have to talk longer so he’ll think I’ve bored you with the whole naming tale. He is Hard Fin Chokes the Life From Monsters and he agrees not to eat your pigfish right now. It was only one sea dragon and I’d already bitten its other two heads off. But the pod had already given me a name, and he was the son of the old pod leader, so he got the naming story.::
Hard Fin dived into the school of small fish after his pod, unable to hold back from the food any longer. The orca ate with a frantic focus as if there might not be food animals again, ever. And school after school of fishes from fat yellowfin to bright reef fish poured out of the portal. Great Holhata and Great Kahla provided indeed.
::Fine whatever about Hard Fin,:: Teeth Cleaver said. ::But that last bit wasn’t about his name, was it?.::
::Well, ah,:: Sharp Sharp tilted a fin in a minimizing gesture. ::It’s just a favorite song bit, is all.::
::I like songs!:: Llllooouooo called out from a position above, a cautious distance from the orca pod.
::Ooo,:: agreed Nnnnmmmll and Mmmmunnnll.
Sharp Sharp twitched her tail in annoyance. ::It doesn’t translate right into your words. The refrain is about ‘when food creatures have too many young for these barren seas and their old grow weary of life,’ but you don’t have enough different words for hunger to make the translation worth my time.::
::We have seventeen words for eating,:: Nnnnmmmll said.
Teeth Cleaver counted; the dolphin was right.
::We don’t.:: Sharp Sharp growled. ::Of course food creatures would need additional terms for being eaten.::
::Not a food creature!:: Mmmmunnnl interrupted with emphatic agreement from the other two dolphins, but rather than dive past the pod of whiteblacks to retreat through the portal the three dolphins swam for the hostile ocean surface.
::They are, though.:: Sharp Sharp sighed. She made a slow sentry circle guarding the pod from attack while they were distracted by food.
Teeth Cleaver kept pace with her. ::Hard Fin eats his scouts?::
::Maybe the large-minds will understand?::
::They won’t.:: Teeth Cleaver considered the pod of too-thin orca. One feeding, even on well fatted fishes provided by a pair of near mythical whale gods, would not change their view of themselves as a starving people. The faint bitterness of diffuse poisons and the strange screams of unknown creatures made Teeth Cleaver long to immediately begin a hunt, but Great Holhata and Great Kahla had advised whalishness. Irritatingly, that meant giving up the dolphin scouts. ::They should go back,:: he said.
The orca pod was singing. It was the tune about eating all things and the food beasts thanking them for it. Teeth Cleaver could make out some of the words now that he’d had the benefit of Sharp Sharp’s translations. ::Swarges of young in samsampth seas,:: howled Hard Fin with a shout and the Arcanan pod replied, ::We eat oinks!::
::And old marglesd durrfata of life!::
::We eat oinks!::
::Fight. Fight. Fight!:: Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnl chanted along in Sharonan with the beat of the song, their voices fading as they began their first reconnaissance.
::No oinkfish here, Hard Fin.:: Sharp Sharp injected. A babble of back and forth between the whole pod and the Arcanan envoy filled the water and the three dolphins slipped unnoticed out of Teeth Cleaver’s perception as he tried to follow the orca discussion, catching only repetitions of pigfish, eat, and oink from the pod. And then finally whiteblack, whiteblack, gah whiteblack repeated again and again with varying tones of disbelief.
::Coming, us, coming fast!:: Nnnnmmmll shrilled out in a chirped dolphinish squeak.
::Not oink?:: Hard Fin shouldered Sharp Sharp hard into Teeth Cleaver and twitched a disbelieving fin towards the sound’s source.
The dolphins descended, holding a massive tentacle dangling between Mmmmunnnll and Llllooouooo’s mouths and Nnnnmmmll squealed delight enough for all three of them in high pitched dolphin, ::Fight. Fight. Fight!::
::Gray orca.:: Sharp Sharp said, with evident satisfaction.
::Gah whiteblack.:: Hard Fin agreed. And the pod murmured acknowledgement.
Another burst of fishes erupted from the deep portal and feeding resumed.
Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll chirped their shared pride and flippered back up again for a second reconnaissance.
Teeth Cleaver caught the long tentacle the dolphins had dropped and examined it. Long. More than twice his length and the gnawed side showing no indication of whether this was the full arm or only a small part. An interesting sharp barb dangled from the narrow tip and it scented the water with something numbing when his jaw squeezed the small venom bladder behind it.
Sharp Sharp batted it away into the inky depths with a tail flick before Teeth Cleaver swallowed too much. ::The pod has accepted the gray ones as small orca, don’t get them thinking about how if a gray can be a whiteblack, then maybe a fool of an orca can be an oinkerfish.::
Teeth Cleaver peeled back his lips in disgusted derision and suddenly understood the whale’s law. Cannibals. Dolphin flesh is forbidden, not because the gray ones think like us, but because the great whales think us to all be whales like them. He shook off the uncomfortable thought and refocused on the sinking tentacle now too far below to be worth diving after. Hard Fin batted it through the narrow portal mouth with his much scarred tail and was rewarded with another burst of fishes.
The Arcanan orca fell again on the little morsels in a hurricane of fins and chum. Teeth Cleaver admired their focus. They moved with a precision of motion like every tail flip were a choreographed dance with points taken off for any excess exertion.
::But what of the prey beast?:: Teeth Cleaver said. ::Wounded by our, ah, gray orca? Do its limbs regrow? Quickly, I mean. Could it recover and be a suitable enemy later?:: he suggested.
Sharp Sharp flipped her tail with annoyance. ::No, dead. Hours dead at least. Something stronger eats it.:: She bared her teeth with pride. ::And our gray ones stole a piece of the kill from that one.::
::We’ll hunt that then.:: Teeth Cleaver swam up, intrigued. He broke the surface for a long breath.
Peculiar things hung in the sky. The large square and rectangular bottoms looked like the floating swim rafts the Cetacean Embassy sometimes used for the humans to rest on between visits with finned people. But these rested, not on the water, but multiple nose to tail lengths above the very tips of the rolling waves. And most had pillars at the corners with high arched canopies over them.
Two Legs teemed along the edges of the air barges, squealing at higher pitches than normal. Teeth Cleaver squinted. Children. The humans up there were mostly the young. And in the water between the circling float pavilions, monsters bellowed at each other. The remains of the creature the dolphin’s tentacle had come from hung stinking and gutted in a cage beneath one of the nearer rafts and a couple other rafts held empty cages beneath them.
The eater of the octomonster would be there, in the middle. Teeth Cleaver slid back under the water. Squawking echoed through the water. Seagull monsters? he wondered. They’d better be enormous to be worth the trip here. He hoped they wouldn’t have feathers. The pinions always got caught in the spaces between one’s teeth.
::We plan fight.:: Sharp Sharp called out and Teeth Cleaver dove down to rejoin the pod.
Nnnnmmmll, Llllooouooo, and Mmmmunnnll shrilled in odd high pitches well above their normal voices as they returned. ::Not just one here. Not just one.::
::WE HEAR. THERE ARE TOO MANY. YOU MAY RETREAT.:: Great Kahla said from the other side of the portal. A faint Sharonan orca song came through the portal on the tail of the sperm whale’s words. Ah. Some others of the people were coming to answer the initial whale’s call. A hundred monsters would not convince Teeth Cleaver to retreat now.
Sharp Sharp babbled something that seemed to include a reference to foreign whale gods. The pod was not impressed.
Hard Fin snorted contempt for the concern and gabbled out something which Sharp Sharp translated, ::The Two Legs usually release them one by one to make the show more interesting. So it hardly matters how many there are.::
What show? Teeth Cleaver thought.
::Show?:: inquired Llllooouooo with more politeness than Teeth Cleaver could manage.
::For the Two Legs,:: Sharp Sharp supplied. ::You’ll see.:: Then she paused to make some noises at the pod. ::I told them you inquired about our tactical plans. So think of something insightful to not make yourselves look like fools. There are always Two Legs in floats above the waves. Then there are the creatures who fight each other.::
::Fight us,:: Teeth Cleaver corrected.
::Each other,:: Mmmmunnnll and Llllooouooo chorused. ::We saw.:: Nnnnmmmll added.
::Oh?:: Sharp Sharp’s attention snapped hyper focused on them. ::Report the shape of today’s monsters. What size cages?::
::In the water and four,:: Nnnnmmmll said. ::Too big for cages,:: Llllooouooo said. ::Much,:: Mmmmunnnll agreed. And all three looked bright eyed at Sharp Sharp as if they’d provided a full and complete reconnaissance report.
::Are you using jellyfish for brains?:: Teeth Cleaver demanded. ::How were they fighting each other? Claws? Fangs? Talons? Have they gills or lungs or both?:: He finished with a slow enunciation of each word, ::What. Do. They. Look. Like?::
The three dolphins considered each other and conversed with each other in a flurry of soft chirps before Mmmmunnnll announced with exaggerated slowness, ::Sting, sting, sting, sting, sting, sting, sting, sting. With mouth, mouth, mouth. Bite.::
::Like dead one,:: Nnnnmmmll added in a moment of actual usefulness.
::Except big,:: Mmmmunnnll corrected.
Llllooouooo blew bubbles in deep thought, clearly trying to find other words.
::Ah.:: Sharp Sharp waggled her tail in acknowledgement and babbled to the Arcanan orca pod before summarizing for Teeth Cleaver, ::Bird-headed squid variant hydra, with some sort of poison in the barbs at the tips of the tentacles:: she told Teeth Cleaver. ::I wonder if the Two Legs have figured out how to make them fly this time.::
::Gray orca,:: Sharp Sharp interrupted immediately with a fin wiggle towards her pod. ::Not speaking a tongue is not the same as knowing none of your words.:: She added in mutter too quiet to travel far.
Llllooouooo shrilled in sudden inspiration, :::Giant squid chicken!::
::Four giant squid chicken!:: Nnnnmmmll and Mmmmunnnll squealed agreement, clearly delighted with finding Sharonan vocabulary that fit the magically created beasts.
A two-voiced deep bellowing challenge resounded through the water. That did not sound like a squid chicken.
::Hydra romthu!:: Hard Fin announced with clear delight.
::New thing?:: Mmmmunnnll blinked in wide-eyed curiosity. Llllooouooo and Nnnnmmmll chirped uncertainty combined with interest.
A dozen throats squawked a return challenge. Four hydra, three heads each, at least one conventional seadrake hydra but with just two heads… Teeth Cleaver thought, doing the math and counting the pod. ::We outnumber them.:: he pointed out, disappointed.
::Don’t worry, :: Sharp Sharp reassured him. ::They’ll out mass us.::
::Big,:: all three dolphins agreed.
The thump of whale tails against ocean bottom sent mud churning through the portal but neither Great Holhata nor Great Kahla could do more than that to express their frustration.
Battling squawks sounded through the water increasing in pitch and the whales stopped all motion, listening closely.
The pod of orca twitched. A glitter of tiny crystals embedded on fins and tails on each of them sparkled. They’ve decorated their wounds? Teeth Cleaver wondered. He blinked at the barbarism. But Sharp Sharp didn’t seem to have a crystal piercing.
Hard Fin roared a return battle cry and the pod rushed upwards into a churning surf.
::Fight begins,:: Sharp Sharp yelled, entirely unnecessarily.
::What happened to battle planning?:: Teeth Cleaver demanded, dodging a tentacle the width of a palm trunk as he followed Sharp Sharp in the mad rush after the pod.
::Kill everything.:: Sharp Sharp panted a gasp of air and dove again. ::Try not to die. Same plan every fight anyway.::
Bloody chum splattered everywhere in the water and Teeth Cleaver gave up on trying to identify the mess of flavors seething through the water. Three whiteblacks had died in the first blind rush, but they’d cost the massive squid creatures in torn tentacles, missing eyes, and even a shattered beak.
Four squawking creatures fought each other for control of the surface of the water. Squid chicken indeed, the monsters easily massed as much as a young blue whale and their tentacles curled and lashed out near triple their resting length. Their rubbery flesh bled a yellow brown and tasted rancid. Their stings held some numbing agent which the Arcanan orca seemed partially immune to, but Nnnnmmmll had caught a glancing edge of a poisoned tentacle barb and seized for several seconds before recovering himself. The three heads and their beaks were more eagle than seagull, so they might be what a chicken looked like, if a chicken had three featherless scaled heads with wicked beaks and sharp forward-facing eyes.
Teeth Cleaver couldn’t recall ever seeing a live chicken. He knew the word only from occasional Cetacean Embassy treats. He could say with confidence however, that the squid monsters did not taste like chicken. They tasted like sea urchin, of the spiny river mud kind.
As an ocean people, all the cetacean fighters could stay beneath the waves for a long time, but eventually they did need to breathe, and the squid chicken were waiting for them when they did.
And in the middle of the four, a creature small only relative to the enormity of the squid chicken hunkered on the battered remnants of an empty barge. It refused to reenter the waves now that orca owned the deep. Beneath the surface, the squid chickens fought blind. When a head dipped below, the full strength of the remaining pod savaged it. When the heads stayed safe above the water, the tentacles reached out blindly and met teeth.
Where a Sharonan giant squid would have waited in perfect stillness to let the slight currents of passing bodies give away the locations of the orca, these creatures squawked and flailed, stabbing at each other and churning the waves with so much force that a froth of constant bubbles hid the orca better than any spell.
They are young, Teeth Cleaver realized. May they stay young forever.
He tried not to pant when Hard Fin led a charge to clear a brief patch of surface for the pod to gasp in new air. They submerged again with only one more whiteblack injured and not too badly. Hard Fin had timed the dash flawlessly.
Skilled hunters, they worked in teams to harry the tentacles and shred whatever lengths the squid chickens dared extend beyond the reach of the neighboring arms.
The same efficiency of motion the pod had used when feeding served them well to extend their time beneath the surface as they bit and chewed on tentacles.
A team of four would snap at one rubbery arm while another team bit at the monster’s other side and still a third harassed from the sides and below. The squid chickens squawked and tried to climb the barge to get their limbs out of the orca-filled waters, but the seadrake held her own, the venom-dripping barbs scratching uselessly over the stone scale dragon hide. But their beaks were more than sharp enough to pierce. One of the seadrake’s clawed hind legs bled from a beak stab wound. And the squid monsters both severely outnumbered and severely out massed the two-headed hydra. A stump remained of a third head, but it was clearly an old wound, long healed.
Two of the squid grabbed the same edge of the float raft. The barge itself began to tilt.
The orca surged on the distracted squid chickens, rending and tearing tentacles. One squid chicken wrapped tentacles around the seadrake and failed to defend itself from below. Hard Fin dared all to gnaw a gaping hole into the soft underbelly itself.
And the barge righted itself with no dragon hydra’s corpse falling into the waves.
::The crippled seadrake lives yet.:: Sharp Sharp said with approval.
The water near the barge frothed opaque with yellow-brown ichor. Hard Fin chortled and above, the two headed hydra made a disparaging twinned hiss.
The two stronger squid chickens squawked triumph and converged on the corpse of their dead sibling to gobble down the tastiest internal organs and fell on their injured sister to eat her alive.
::Now!:: Sharp Sharp echoed an order from Hard Fin and the pod re-engaged.
Teeth Cleaver snapped at a tentacle and sheared off a stinger tip as it tried for Hard Fin. ::Why is the sea dragon thing still alive?::
::Us.:: Sharp Sharp’s pride swelled. ::Hear that, Two Head? We finned ones save you. Again.::
The seadrake bellowed back, and a squid chicken squawked pain matching the creature’s objection.
::‘I save self, Water Devil,’ it says.:: Sharp Sharp muttered, annoyed. ::I am whiteblack. Not some mere created Water Devil.::
::Sharp Sharp speaks all tongues,:: Mmmmunnnll observed with notes of appreciation. ::Like whale.::
::I was captured by Two Legs when young. Many spells. Mind made sharp sharp. A bad time. I escaped.:: The orca flicked her tail dismissive of the past. ::Eat them all, someday.::
The surface lay wide open with the surviving two squid chickens engaging each other and the two-headed seadrake over the bodies of the dead and near-dead. But Mmmmunnnll came up near the barge to snatch a precious breath of air, and the seadrake’s left head snapped out and sunk fangs into the dolphin’s side.
The dolphin cried out in gurgling pain. Teeth Cleaver threw himself in a powerful leap out of the water to snap at the seadrake and force it to release the gray creature with only a nasty circle of punctures instead of a death bite of missing flesh.
Almost forgotten above, exhalations of joy and delight showered down from great floating pavilions filled with watching Two Legs.
::What side is it on?:: Teeth Cleaver demanded, exasperated when the second head snapped at his flank. It missed only by a fin’s breadth. Llllooouooo had taunted the first head with a laughing display of smooth belly just out of reach. The jerk of the seadrake’s body as that head lunged at the dolphin pulled it out of range of Teeth Cleaver and the others of the pod defending Mmmmunnnll.
The injured squid chicken wrapped an arm around Llllooouooo and tossed him whole into its open throat.
The crippled sea dragon hissed. ::I, my side.:: And it tore open the squid chicken’s gullet, killing it. Llllooouooo flopped out, gore covered and trembling. ::We even,:: the hydra said.
::It speaks,:: Nnnnmmmll chirped, horrified.
The six heads of the surviving squid chicken swiveled intelligent bright eyes from dolphins to orca to seadrake and back and the squawks changed in tone.
Hard Fin growled an order.
::Don’t talk to it. Kill it!:: Sharp Sharp relayed.
::This is what we get when nobody bothers to discuss the battleplan before charging in.:: That last was clearly her own complaint, and not a repeat of Hard Fin’s words.
::Only two left now.:: Nnnnmmmll panted with exhausted pride.
::Three.:: The seadrake hissed, offended. ::And I eat your livers. All.::
Excited shouts drifted down from above.
The virulent green crystals embedded in the foreheads of the squid chicken flickered to sickly violet and the creatures launched themselves at the orca.
The pod submerged, laughing.
::Always they do this,:: Sharp Sharp said. ::Two Legs pull magic strings and their creations flipflop like this and like so. Bad fighters Two Legs. No tactical sense at all.::
The squid chicken no longer fought each other, but neither did their tentacles respond with their natural quickness. And Sharp Sharp was right. The pod was winning!
And then there was a splash. A gurgling faint cry.
A child in the water. A two leg child.
The pod paused to turn, like sharks towards blood.
And the three dolphins tore through a gauntlet of tentacles, beating even the orca for speed. Llllooouooo thrust the youngling up towards the surface.
The seadrake slammed into the water beside the dolphin with a two leg strapped to its back. Both heads hissed, ::Mine.::
Teeth Cleaver snapped warning teeth at the hydra.
A violet shockwave burst from the high pavilion. The squid chicken froze. The crystals embedded in each bird forehead dulled to a soft amber.
The seadrake body slammed Teeth Cleaver out of the way. The adult two leg rider snatched the child up onto the hydra’s back, and still hissing, the hydra dragon clawed back onto the barge.
Squid chicken eyes refocused.
::Swim!:: Mmmmunnnll squealed and Teeth Cleaver dove beneath with the dolphins.
Below, Sharp Sharp ranted a stream of unfamiliar curses bumping first this orca and then that. Even Hard Fin hung limp, rising slowly towards a surface full of tentacles as his body’s natural fats caused him to drift upwards when no fin or tail movement controlled his position. Some few of the whiteblacks trembled with slight motions as if they were fighting against the weight of crushing depths to move even that much. And another shockwave flashed through the water. Every one of Sharp Sharp’s old pod went limp again as the small crystals embedded in fins and tails flared brilliant red.
::Two leg magic:: Sharp Sharp howled fury. She tore at the crystals but couldn’t remove even one without crippling damage to the bespelled whiteblacks. ::Two Legs always cheat!::
::Whale shit!:: Teeth Cleaver agreed.
::Do you have some magic maybe?:: Llllooouooo looked hopefully at Sharp Sharp.
She snapped her teeth at the dolphin and he, wisely, returned his focus to protecting the orca bodies from the squid chickens trying to eat them.
The three dolphins snarled and howled, taking positions at the sides of the squid chickens as if they were each a full four-team of orca instead of lone bottlenoses.
::They are letting that gray orca thing go to their heads:: Sharp Sharp muttered.
::It was your idea,:: Teeth Cleaver pointed out.
::Doesn’t mean I can’t regret it,:: Sharp Sharp grumbled. The two orca fought the ocean itself, using their bulks to keep the whiteblack pod members from surfacing.
A whisper of a song reached Teeth Cleaver’s ears. He roared back the wild chorus and laughed in raw joy.
Sharp Sharp dodged a tentacle while butting the sluggish form of Hard Fin out of the way and snapped, ::No time to go battle mad, Sharonan.::
::Our sea gods cheat too,:: Mmmmunnnll explained.
And a super-pod of Sharonan orca surged up from the deep.
Teeth Cleaver rose to take a breath, still laughing. The Two Legs above cried out in amazement as their squid monsters, living and dead, were yanked beneath the waves and only yellow-brown chum resurfaced. A pavilion dipped low enough to reclaim the child. The crippled seadrake climbed into the cage beneath the flying raft as it floated far beyond the orcas’ reach. ::Another time, cheaters,:: it said.
::You’d cheat if you could figure out how.:: Sharp Sharp complained.
::So would you,:: its other head hissed back.
::Not wrong,:: Nnnnmmmll agreed.
::You’d both make good dolphins,:: Mmmmunnnll said to Sharp Sharp and Teeth Cleaver.
::Shut up or I’ll eat you,:: Teeth Cleaver said. Llllooouooo, with barely enough strength to swim, nudged the orca affectionately.
::We love you too,:: Nnnnmmmll replied.
::WAKE!:: Great Holhata called.
Pelgra bashed her nose falling out of the hammock and ran out to the end of the pier holding an emergency kit she hadn’t remembered grabbing and her blanket which she’d forgotten to drop. More than a dozen strange orca waited for her.
::Our Two Legs aren’t as good at cheating, but they’re useful,:: Teeth Cleaver was saying while Sharp Sharp echoed the cetacean mindspeech in a dialect Pelgra couldn’t follow. ::This is Has Thumbs, she will remove the crystals.::
Copyright © 2021 by Joelle Presby
Joelle Presby was born in France, raised in Cameroon, and now lives in the United States. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her web site can be found here.