Beneath the Surface
Jayde dipped a head below the surface for only a moment before jerking her head up and panting to take in the air that she only deprived herself of for a few seconds. “Ze pressure on your ears and ‘ead is natural,” her dive guide explained, failing to keep his accent from overtaking his last word. “You must remember to breathe.” There was determination now. Jayde needed to get past this. She needed desperately to dive 28 meters below to the Underwater City. There was only one mission at this juncture. And no alternative but to finish it.
“And you’re sure I can find Aegaeon down there? He hasn’t abandoned the city?”
Her guide was stern. His gills seemed to blanch at the accusation, but his slippery old-world French drawl never faltered. “Aegaeon is ze lord of all Tortue fledglings. He will never abandon. Only you landlocked roamers fall for zat charisma in your leaders.” And with a flap of fins that fanned off the sides of his humanoid hands, the guide didn’t wait, but dipped 6 meters below, waiting for Jayde to join him.
It wasn’t unusual for leaders to abandon these days. The war had driven out anyone who had had resource enough to disappear from the mainstream – this mainly meant the wealthy and the powerful. Jayde’s mother used to say that it was a good thing that leaders had started disappearing. “Too many cities revere their leaders as if they were one of the old gods. They’re just like us. There’s nothing special about them except the resource they have and the way they pretend to use it to help charities.”
But that was a long time ago, at the beginning of the war when they were still allowed to talk about the leaders. Now, you couldn’t publicly breathe unless you were praising them. Sure, they were in hiding,
but eyes and ears were everywhere and their power was still mighty. The Henchmen still enacted punishments for speaking out against them.
Jayde’s panic and phobia had still not subsided, but she buried her fear of water deep down. With a breath, she emptied the excess air from her float suit and let the weights around her waist take her down beneath the surface to rejoin the guide.
Immediately the pressure swelled around her ears like a balloon that she couldn’t pop. She jerked her limbs uncomfortably. It took a long time to figure out how to breathe through the mouthpiece of her BCD rather than through the clamped rubber of the mask around her nose. The guide must have regained some humility because he swam to her. His wide blue eyes gained purchase with hers and he motioned for her to breathe slowly, steadily. Her eyes mirrored his, though hers filled with terror while his were only calm and reassuring. Jayde gradually regained control, slowed her breath and let herself relax per her companion’s guidance. She leveled out her awkward, land-accustomed body into the pillow of the sea. The guide swiveled around her with a gator-like tail to check that she was going to make it, then swirled off into the deep without a second glance. Jayde knew she must follow him into the blue.
“Only one mission. Get to Aegaeon and recover the missing piece. The words were the last command of her own leader before her home base was attacked by Scavengers. Those words shuddered through her body like a resounding echo. If getting this piece – whatever it was – could end the war, then overcoming her fear of submerging into water was the least of her troubles.
The Underwater City
It took shorter than expected for Jayde to grow accustomed to the sensation of the sea swallowing her head, but once she did, her eyes opened wide to the beauty and quiet peace of ocean life that surrounded her. Brightly hued corals decorated the shallows beneath the surface. Colourful fish darted in and out of the winding spines. And large leafy plants swayed in the breeze of a light ocean current like grass in a field. Without the pollution of sound, Jayde’s body quicky became attuned to slight vibrations and changes in pressure. Descending deeper, the light from the surface started to fade and all colours of the spectrum disappeared, starting with red, until everything in sight became murky purplish-blue.
Her guide – Tonas was his name – turned to her. “We must descend along the lobster wall.”
Tonas was a young breed, among the newest evolutionary species of Deterra and Marine mix – that is, a new classification of human and aquatic creature. This enabled him to speak above and below land, though admittedly, his voice below water was a more natural sound. Above, his voice squeaked out in a sort of warble.
Jayde’s face blanched (as much as it could in darkening water) to where Tonas’ long willowy finger pointed. Just beyond, she could see where the playful ambiance of the coral reef steeply dropped to dark shadow and the blue nothingness of the open sea.