This episode's cover was drawn by ALEXIS MORRISON.
I flipped off the board and crashed into the water. The wave held me under. No breath. Darkness. I fought my way to the surface. Another wave. My head was slammed by the white water. Darkness.
I foolishly believed I’d have a talent for surfing. I was a martial artist and sorcerer, after all, and had trained in many different disciplines across many different worlds.
I was athletic, and nimble as a mouse due to my, well, being a mouse. How could water be any challenge when I’d surfed mountainsides and flown through the clouds on raptor mounts?
The village was Rajam Put, and the master called Gojun.
I stumbled on Rajam Put when hunting along the shoreline. I’d blipped in a day prior, and wanted a fresh meal. Through the jungle, I watched waves rise high and smack into the open beach. Stunning how upon such a level plain, moving mountains rose so high.
Then lights. Not stars in the sky, but glitter upon the waves themselves.
Out in the dark of the night, glowing four-armed peoples surfed the waves. Neon polka dots lined the white skin, and neon animals surged through the forest. By midnight, every plant and animal glowed. And the people were no exception.
I waddled to that beach. No hostility. Many other races were there, beings that glowed and did not glow. All surfed in harmony. Rajam Put was a port town—a hub for many thousands of smaller islands.
The master Gojun, whose four arms were muscled though his belly round, said to me, “Stranger, will you ride with us all? Brothers and sisters all come together for the waves.” He patted his stomach like a drum with all four hands.
I agreed, though when I pulled out my crystalline shield and flipped the switch—turning it into a surfboard—Gojun cursed and threw it to the sand. He brought me a “proper” board carved of an undersea tree species, and said, “This is a loan, stranger. Must be returned to this beach by moondown.”
I recollected my shield from the sand, agreed to his terms, and expressed my gratitude for the board. We paddled out.
Certainly overconfident, I went for the large waves straight away. Large seahorses towed us out into the far reaches—where the biggest waves swelled tall and strong. I grabbed onto a line and the bioluminescent woman kicked her steed. The seahorse flew through the water and towed me up the side of an encroaching mass of water.
I got demolished by the water. Waves strangled me, and battered me against the coral below. My head was fine. My arm bled heavily.
When I saw light, I swam as fast as I could. The board beneath my feet fought me. I didn’t expect that. The board glowed the farther I got away from it. Like a magnet to my feet, the runes yanked and yanked.
My eyes scorched hot with sorcery. I fought the board and swam towards the light. I opened my palms like jets and spiraled through the water to the surface.
Except the true surface was as dark as the night outside.
And this light was not the surface as all.
Because of the jets I soared through the water and popped out of the air. With a smack I fell bum first onto stone. I used my tail to stand.
The chamber was a sphere of bioluminescent corals. A pocket of rock and air submerged under water. Giant alien crustaceans scuttled at my arrival, receding into the crevices as quick as I burst from the water.
The cave was the size of a home. The hole I’d shot through was as large as the bottom, with a tiny backslapping down from the walls.
The beach had enough room for me to turn and lunge. That was all. My board knifed through the water in pursuit and smashed into the stone beside my feet. Luckily, it was not damaged. The runes carved into the wood went dark with our proximity.
I took long, steady breaths, akin to what I’d trained early in life as a sorcerer. My opal-blood simmered through my veins. Breath was the power in all life, and thus in magic. Without meaning to ignite my sorcery, breathing and meditation always brought forth this response. I calmed my heartbeat and began hatching an escape. How deep was I underwater? Not too deep—the pressure was not too bad. Perhaps this wasn’t an underwater cave at all, but a cave on the surface. I’d have to swim down, then out and up. But if I was underwater, I’d need to look around first to see which way the real surface was.
Either way, I needed to get out. Swimming seemed my only option.
“Now, now, now, no need to go. Poor little rat will miss the show.” A slew of the corals morphed and transformed. Coral arms sprouted tentacles, large snail shells morphed into eyeballs, and the colors flickered like neon city lights.
An eight eyed cephalopod clung to the ceiling. An alien amalgamation between brain and squid. The eight eyes descended as a line along the torpedo shaped body. In succession the eyes reached from stalks, and glared at me as the stalks shifted in circles.
Between the tentacles and the eyestalks, there was a web of glowing flesh.
“Under waves you find strength,” said the being, “but over them we find ours. Stranded ashore, we must find a way back to the ocean. Stranded below, you must find a way to the land. A dynamic of balance, I would say, as I enjoy my time above the tides, and you enjoy yours upon the waves.” The voice chittered like a crab, “The risk always remains of stranding.”
“Do you often speak wisdom the moment you meet strangers?” I said.
There was a long pause, and then the cephalopod’s beak gaped in laughter. The eyestalks retreated and she climbed down to be nearer. I did not back away.
She said, “I do.”
“It definitely felt premeditated.”
“I spend a good deal of time perfecting these words to those who get stranded.”
“Why is that?”
“I was once hunted. Like prey, or a demon. The solution was simple: offer something, or continue to run. I enjoy this cove, and the people it brings. So I found this cave and ‘opened shop,’ as the rajami say.”
“Food. My people are a delicacy to the rajami. But I have changed that.”
“By speaking wisdoms?”
“Indeed. Aid a young child, and they will scream when their parents come to hunt you. Aid a village of children, and in decades they worship you as a friend. Now the people of this place swim to say hello, and ask for me as a sage.”
“Rather than a snack?”
“Quite cruel that the people of Rajam Put hunted your race, seeing as you are sentient beings.”
“Cruelty does not carry the weight of their acts. But how can one blame them? I am terrifying. I could swallow them whole in my beak, and carry such wisdoms beyond their understanding.”
“Is that sarcasm, there, at the end?”
“You lack the tone.”
“I have been working on it.”
We shared a laugh.
I stretched and motioned to the pool of water, “This my only way out of here?”
Her eyestalks vibrated in thought, and colorful patches blinked across her skin, “Yes and no.”
“Ah, you’re holding back more sagely wisdom.”
“You are onto my game.” She gestured with open tentacles, like a matriarch in dialogue with youths. “How am I to speak my wisdoms now that you understand my facade?”
“I don’t see any facade. Just a. . . what are you?”
“Right. I don’t see any facade, just a piscalion who thinks well, and has rerouted the stance of two entire peoples because of it. If anything, that is more genuine than false wisdoms rooted in hate or fear.” I shrugged, “Maybe more peoples should become premeditated sages, and speak well to children to gain their trust.”
“If only more children were willing to listen.”
I nodded to that. I said, again, “This is the only way out of here?” I gestured with my eyes, “Use your wisdoms on me.”
The piscalion took a priestly posture in jest. “Yes and no, rat. For one may swim and risk the dangers of the under wave, or one can accept my aid, and be shot into a new life.”
“Ah I see, and what is the difference between the two paths? One will aid me in life and the other leave me stunted forever? That is typically the nature of advice.”
She blinked and shook her tentacles, “I try to avoid such absolute paths—they tend to destroy lives. So no! My wisdom here is nothing but a choice between swimming through the darkness, and getting a bit of help.”
“The help being the ‘shot into a new life,’ thing?”
I said, “I’ll uh, go with that route. Purely out of curiosity.”
“In the end, isn’t it always simple curiosity?”
“Do you have a list of all these sayings or—?”
“Memory. I have quite a bit of time.” She walked towards me on her tentacles and reached out, “Hold on, and you will be shot into a new life.”
The sage grappled me in her tentacles, swam out of the hole in the floor, and barreled towards the surface. Within seconds, a massive jetstream propelled from between her tentacles and shot me through the waves. I flew into the air and landed in the low tide, where a group of the four armed bioluminescent folk dragged me ashore.
My rajami surfboard followed again.
Gojun knelt beside me, and wiped water from the fur around my eyes. He shook his head, “I thought you maybe died, stranger, but it seems that another fate has had you. For the Sage has shot you into a new life!”
I smiled, and laughed, at how ridiculous the cephalopod’s show had been. To literally shoot someone as a ways of inspiring them felt more akin to a a sleazy salesperson than a wizened old wizard. But then again, it was clever.
I stood, and stretched my legs—sore from the impact.
“Have you learned from your time ‘under waves?’” Asked Gojun.
I’m not sure what I learned, if anything, though the story would certainly stay with me. So all I said was, “Yes. I think I did.” Sometimes there isn’t always a lesson, simply an experience.
I surfed with those people all night, though I stayed well clear of the seahorses towing people towards the far waves. I kept to the low tides, and paddled along on my loaned, tracking surfboard. As the moon went down and sunlight swallowed the stars, one by one everyone came from the water, and those with borrowed boards marched to return them.
Board under arm, I strode towards a smiling Gojun.
He said, “Ah, how did you enjoy it? Our boards are gifts from the spirits of the—,” and before I could hand it off, I blipped, board pursuing to the next world. I accidentally thieved a loaned, magical, sacred board.
I still feel quite terrible about that.