Mara’Uto woke up and opened her purple colored eyes as something dropped and struck the floor in her room with a splash. Flames were bobbing on the disturbed surface of the water and smoke was filling her room. Her scaly skin and eyes began to sting from the thick smoke and unsure of what to do, she started crying. She heard her mother, Tamu’Eda scream in her parent’s room as her father, Remen’Fu came in to get her.
“We need to get below the surface,” he explained, taking her hand and pulling her safely to the door. “Don’t worry, as long as you are with me, you will be safe.” Mara’Uto’s mother followed behind as they swam out the entrance to their home and toward the safety of the deeper structures.
Around them, Mara’Uto could see many other of the Awa also swimming to safety. The flames above provided illumination near the surface but far below, the sea slugs lit up the bottom of the realm. Several long dark objects were floating on the surface of the water. They slowly floated among the many houses and out of Mara’Uto’s sight. In times like this, the Awa would go to the awa’dar to be safe from the enemies above.
They quickly swam to the great structure that would keep them safe. Inside, it was a large open chamber with a great number of seats circling a central open area. Many of the Awa had already arrived so her father led the family to some of the outer seats. “Stay here,” he ordered. “I am going to go see if I can find out what exactly is happening.” Tamu’Eda wrapped her webbed hands around her daughter and nodded as Remen’Fu made his way toward the center of the great chamber.
“They came from Hayve,” said one of the Awa standing in the center of the chamber. “The Dark Wizard sent them, most likely to clear us out of his way so he can move against Tanarad.”
I don’t care where Gerzh goes,” grunted another, “so long as he leaves us alone. We may be friendly toward the men that live on land, but even the Dark Wizard should know we have no alliances.”
“I still want to know how he managed to get past our sentries undetected,” someone piped up.
One of the higher-ranking Awa, Neped’Wo, stepped into the crowd. “Three of our sentries are unaccounted for,” he explained. “We are still unsure if they were overpowered or just never showed up for duty, but we are doing everything we can to find out.”
“Well I’ve had three of my neighbors never make it out of their homes alive tonight,” someone shouted. “Someone will have to pay for this outrage!”
Neped’Wo waved his hands in the air. “I need you all to calm down and let us sort out this mess. The soldiers on duty are currently searching homes and aiding everyone that needs help while the awa’ref is deciding a course of action. Understand that we are all in this together. I hope we do not decide to go to war, but I need you to be ready if the awa’ref decides repercussions are necessary.”
For a moment, those standing in the center of the chamber were silent at the mentioning of war, but soon someone spoke up. “Neped’Wo, don’t you mean to say that the awa’ref is deciding if an active conflict with the Dark Wizard is politically advantageous or not?”
“Dark curses on you and your conspiracy theories,” Neped’Wo replied contemptuously. “If you wish to accuse any among us of being corrupt minions of Gerzh, do so publicly in a more fitting environment. Don’t stand here slandering someone else’s reputation or you’re no better than the accusations you’re throwing around.”
The troubled Awa pulled out a piece of sharpened coral and the others quickly stepped back. “Save my accusations for a more fitting environment? Tonight my family was killed and many of these others have lost their homes and loved ones,” he said, pointing his other hand at the many Awa in the chamber, “and instead of being able to avenge their deaths, I am stuck here waiting for a council to decide if we can attack our enemy?” He shook his head. “It should not take a council to know what needs to be done tonight.”
Several of the others grabbed him and wrestled away the sharpened coral. “If it is death you want, save it for later,” Neped’Wo said as they pulled him away.
The thirteen members of the awa’ref suddenly entered into the chamber. The one in front held up a spear, the sign that they were about to announce their decision and for everyone to return to their seats. Remen’Fu went back to where his family was sitting. “This could be bad,” he muttered to his wife.
The head of the awa’ref, Benum’Ha, took a few steps forward. “Tonight, three sentries succumbed to bribery and permitted the army of the Dark Wizard Gerzh to attack our realm. They also murdered two others before they could spread the alarm. It is evident that the Dark Wizard had been planning this attack for quite some time and as your leaders, myself and the others of the awa’ref have decided that action must be taken, not only to defend our realm, but also to give the enemy reason to never return. Captains, activate your units. You will be informed later if you will be staying to guard or traveling to war.”
Remen’Fu sighed and nodded. “I was right,” he said to his wife, “I will have to leave you behind.”
“Perhaps your unit will stay behind to guard,” she tried to reassure.
He shook his head. “My company knows how to travel. It will be the newer untrained units that stay behind.” He smiled at Mara’Uto. “You should come see us when we get ready to leave. We travel on something you’ve never seen before.”
“Fifteen is too young for a girl to be around the na’karden lanes,” said Tamu’Eda. “I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Don’t worry, mother,” replied the girl, “I will be safe with father there.”
“She will be safe,” her father reassured, standing up to leave. “Besides, I think she’s old enough to know what a na’karden is. I have to go assemble my company. In the morning, come down to the na’karden lanes, but be careful not to get caught by any danbobs on the way.” He gave them each a quick hug before he went to assemble his company. Many of the others in the room were also saying goodbye to their families and leaving the chamber to join up with their units.
Most of the soldiers were already waiting by the time Remen’Fu gathered his armor and weapons and swam to the designated assembly area for his unit. Commander Denet’Mu was also waiting. Remen’Fu set down his gear and saluted the commander. “I assume you have our orders?” he asked.
Commander Denet’Mu nodded. “Our advance scouts just returned and say that Bormaror is deserted. The entire army of the Dark Wizard sailed through here tonight, not some small attack force. We know their current bearing. They are sailing straight toward Tanarad to attack either Higdon or Itragoni. Despite our hands off approach to the politics of land, Benum’Ha sent a warning to the Great King Felarikam, but the king will not get the message in time to prepare enough troops to meet the Dark Wizard at the coast.”
“We could defeat and sink the Dark Wizard’s ships long before they reach shore,” Captain Remen’Fu suggested.
The Commander shook his head. “Something is different with the ships this time and the na’karden won’t swim too close. You need to equip your soldiers with landing feet. This battle will have to be fought on land.
Captain Remen’Fu grimaced. “I hate those things. I’d much rather stay in the water where I can use my fins. So why are you telling me my orders and not Colonel Nemar’Nu?”
Commander Denet’Mu put his hand on the Captain’s shoulder and smiled. “You no longer answer to Nemar’Nu. Instead, you now answer to me, Colonel Remen’Fu. I am promoting you and giving you twenty-five companies.”
“I... I am honored, Sir,” replied the newly promoted Colonel. “Why did you choose me?”
“Because I know that Colonel Remen’Fu will not let me down,” the Commander answered. “Colonel Nemar’Nu is going to Higdon, you are going to Itragoni. I will inform the other companies that are now under your control. They’ll be waiting for you at the na’karden lanes.”
Colonel Remen’Fu nodded as the Commander dove into the water and swam out of the assembly area. He turned to his company and picked out his best line officer. “Captain Parah’We, get your company equipped with landing feet and find someone to take your former position as line officer. As soon as you’re done, go assemble at the na’karden lanes.”
Many of the Awa spent the night in the great chamber and by morning, the air was beginning to grow stale. Food was being distributed to the many families by the time Mara’Uto awoke. She hurriedly ate and then told her mother that she was going to find her father at the na’karden lanes. “Be careful,” Tamu’Eda urged her daughter.
“I will,” the girl replied. She left the large chamber and swam to where her friend, Hefa’Ubo lived. Hefa’Ubo was just inside the entrance of the home helping her mother scrub smoke damage off the walls. “Good morning,” she greeted. “I see your house was attacked also.”
Hefa’Ubo nodded. “Father has to go to war so it’s just me and mother left to clean up the mess. Why aren’t you helping your mother?”
“My father said I could come watch him leave,” she answered. “You should come too and you might see your father.”
Hefa’Ubo’s mother entered the room. “If your father thinks it’s safe for you to go alone, I will trust Hefa’Ubo to go with you,” she said. “Now be careful; I don’t want the two of you getting into any trouble.”
The two girls left the home and swam to the surface. “We are going to see a na’karden,” Mara’Uto explained after she caught her breath.
“I’ve heard stories from the boys at school,” replied Hefa’Ubo. “They say one could swallow a person whole.”
“Oh, those boys have to be just making things up,” Mara’Uto decided. “There is no way my father would ride something that could eat him whole.” She started swimming toward the east. “I’ll race you to the land bridge!” she shouted.
The two girls laughed as they swam rapidly toward the narrow strip of land that connected Hayve and Mayve. At high tide, the land was submerged, but at low tide, the land was above the sea level. When they arrived, the tide was going down but it was still covered by a shallow amount of water. They quickly splashed across on their fins and entered the eastern part of the sea. From here, they could see the great rock walls of the na’karden lanes far from shore. Many soldiers were also around the walls.
Boom! A loud drum sounded underwater. For a moment, the two girls stopped swimming as they felt the sound move through the water. “I wonder what that was for,” Mara’Uto said as they started swimming again. By the time they reached the na’karden lanes, the drum had boomed four times. They climbed up onto the rocks, careful not to scratch their fins.
“There it is!” one of the soldiers shouted, pointing into the distance. Far away, a thin tan colored fin was slicing through the water and coming toward them.
Mara’Uto felt someone put a hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw her father. “You girls should watch from the other end of the lanes,” he said, pointing toward where the creature was coming from. “Down there, it will swim right past you, but here you will be right by the head with all the teeth, and I know your mothers would not want you so close to danger.”
The two girls giggled as they jumped back into the water and swam to the far end. When they reached it, they noticed the creature was even larger than they had expected with more than one fin and moving quickly toward the na’karden lanes. “It’s a big one,” she heard her father shout. “Two companies can ride it.” Soldiers on the rocks grabbed spikes and lowered themselves into crevasses along the lane walls.
The drum beat a few more times to direct the na’karden into the correct lane. The girls held tight to the rocks as a massive wave of displaced water rushed past them. As it swam past, the great fins towered high over them. When it neared the far end of the lane, the drum gave two rapid beats and all the soldiers sprang toward the na’karden, jabbing their spikes through the leathery hide and deep into its flesh.
The na’karden shuddered from the many sudden wounds and surfaced to raise them out of the salty water. The two girls gasped in awe at the size of the monstrous creature. It had four of the large fins on its back and another for the tail. A smaller fin was on either side of its face. “That thing could eat my house whole!” Hefa’Ubo stammered.
“My father is not afraid to ride these,” Mara’Uto said proudly.
The soldiers now began to put a large rope harness on the na’karden. It would provide the soldiers with a way to tie down their gear for the trip and give them a way to keep from falling off. The harness was secured to the bones of the great fins and in four places, wrapped entirely around the na’karden.
With the na’karden secured, the two fascinated girls slowly made their way along the wall back toward the other end. They watched as the soldiers prepared for their voyage. When they found Mara’Uto’s father again, he was standing on the head of the na’karden. “You girls can stay and watch us leave,” he yelled down to them, “but I want you gone before the next na’karden is captured.” Mara’Uto nodded and the two girls began to go back toward the tail.
“I bet all the boys at school would be jealous if you said you had touched a na’karden,” Hefa’Ubo said, after they had passed all the soldiers.
Mara’Uto shook her head. “My father doesn’t want us in the water with it. We should stay on the rocks where we are safe.”
“I dare you to touch it,” Hefa’Ubo grinned. She began to lower herself into the water by the tail.
“No,” Mara’Uto replied, “your mother said not to get into trouble.”
“I think you’re just scared because it’s so big,” Hefa’Ubo accused. “Just you watch, I’m going to touch it real quick and nothing will happen.” She lowered herself the rest of the way into the water and pushed off from the wall. “Go ahead and stay there,” she said, “I’ll just tell everyone at school that you were scared to touch a na’karden.”
Mara’Uto frowned and dove into the water. She came up beside the na’karden and wrapped her arm around the last rope before the tail. “I am not scared and I shouldn’t always have to prove it to you,” she argued.
Hefa’Ubo swam up beside her and put her hand against the slick leathery side of the na’karden. “Now we’ve both touched it. None of the boys at school are going to believe this!”
“We should get back to the rocks,” Mara’Uto said, loosening her grip on the rope. She tried to pull out her arm but the na’karden shifted and the rope tightened. “Hefa’Ubo, help me get my arm out,” she cried, “it hurts!”
The other girl grabbed the rope and pulled as hard as she could. The na’karden started to move. “I can’t move it,” she said. “The rope is too tight.”
Mara’Uto opened her mouth to scream for help as the na’karden swam out of the na’karden lane and began to turn back toward the open sea, but an unexpected wave washed over them, pulling off Hefa’Ubo and leaving Mara’Uto choking on the seawater. When she opened her eyes and looked back, Hefa’Ubo was in the distance unable to swim fast enough to catch up.
Mara’Uto looked toward the front of the na’karden between waves. None of the soldiers were on her side of the next great fin and probably would not come back or notice her for quite some time. She wrestled with the rope and shifted her arm as best she could so the rope did not pinch as tightly. She cried softly because of the pain as she watched her familiar waters fade into the distance behind them.
Hefa’Ubo watched in horror as Mara’Uto was dragged away through the sea because of her taunting. If only she hadn’t accused her friend of being afraid to touch the na’karden, she would still be there. She felt another drum beat pass through the sea and knew she needed to head back to safer waters. She reluctantly turned and swam toward home as her friend disappeared over the horizon. It would be a long lonely swim and she could only imagine the consequences when she told her mother that Mara’Uto was gone.