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Acquisition

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Freezing rain pelts down from the sky, harsh, stinging, and cast about in every direction by the wind. As unforgiving as all conditions in the Arctic, it assaults those on the deck of the Scyre, soaking through their protective clothing and chilling them to the bone. Futily, all have the hoods of the bright yellow raincoats drawn tight against their element battered cheeks. These coats, bright in contrast to the dark and tempestuous seas they sit upon, drive starker the point that they are but interlopers here.

From the upper deck, her own hood absent and her face bared to the weather, Captain Phasma observes her crew. With a squint to cut through the rain, and a sharp, judicial gaze, she oversees the finale of their expedition through the storm which seeks to impend it.

Positioned before a panel of controls, one man on the deck below Phasma manages the mechanical crank hauling their trap from the seafloor. The rest of her crew crowd near the railing, idle in anticipation. Were she not equally impacted by the expectancy in the air, Phasma might have chastised them for their current inaction. However, as there is reason to be excited, she permits this temporary stragnance. Their trap has been sprung, and, if the grainy trapcam a mile below doesn’t deceive them, then they have what they came for.

In this familiar ritual of hunting, the captain and her crew are well rehearsed. For years, Phasma’s company has made its business acquiring living oddities, primarily sea-based, for a handful of wealthy clientele. Acquired over these numerous missions, she has earned a small fortune for herself, one large enough she might comfortably retire now and live out the remainder of her life somewhere warm and distinctly nicer than this frozen hell she floats currently through. For all the job’s unpleasantries however, she prefers the adventure, gleaning a pleasure from the struggle, and from the victory cessating each mission. She is certain that, for as long as she is bodily capable, she will not be settling on any beachfront anytime soon.

This current assignment Phasma’s bitten off is something of an anomaly. It stands out even amongst the oddities she’s wrangled through the years. Rather than the rare or endangered species they are often sent for, she and her crew pursue presently a creature of legend. While two weeks into this mission, with all granted facts having checked out and her trap harboring a convincing something, she cannot shake fully her skepticism over the creature’s existence. She will accept it as real when it writhes flesh and blood on the deck before her, and no sooner.

The pay, at least, is reliably real, and her current client, Hux, is a rational man, if not an uncannily impassioned one. Phasma is mostly confident, given her long withstanding contractual relationship with Hux, that he would not send her after something fictional. However, if his mind’s ineluctably unraveled and he has, she can suspend her disbelief long enough to see this mission through to an end. This same standard of obedience she extends to her crew.

Currently, it is night, and spotlights trained on the black and agitated water below serve their only visibility. Rain cuts through their bright beams like thousands of insects disoriented in the sun’s absence. Phasma’s eyes, like those of her crew, are fixed on where the cable connecting to their trap emerges from the sea, drawn by the crane arched overhead. While dependable, the trap rises slowly from the depths, slower than Phasma appreciates with the suspense this moment bears.

Watched water never boils, and anticipated traps never rise. With each click of the gradually winding crank, the crew stiffens more in anticipation, until at last the very crown of the cage breaks the surface. It is then that the mechanics recalling the cable pause unexpectedly. The trap halts abruptly, bobbing on the waves, and rises no further.

Immediately, Phasma’s focus snaps to the man behind the controls of the crank. A few of her crew turn too to identify the source of the delay. Despite all the attention placed now upon him, the man at the panel stands strangely unbothered. His hand is loose upon the lever, his shoulders are slumped, and his face is blank. His gaze is fixed unshakably on the patch of water where their trap emerges from the sea, and where a menacing red glow has begun to burn through the icy black surrounding it.

Before Phasma can snap at him, a noise begins. At first, it is merely a subtle whine, soft enough to be misinterpreted as a whisper of the wind. It grows, however, rapidly in volume. The sound is high and hollow, uncanny. It bears the airiness of a child’s singing, and too, the painful pitch Phasma’s ears ring in absolute silence. Its wavering rhythm, varying but ever constant, echoes the shrieks of a dying machine. As it bleeds into the captain’s ears, all thoughts as to her crew’s actions, and as to the source of the noise, elude her, extinguished beneath the snow storm of heavy but insubstantial white which has overtaken her mind.

Removed from herself, and lost to a bizarre, involuntary complacency, Phasma watches as the loose hand atop the crank’s controls falls back to its owner’s side. In doing so, this hand knocks a lever on the panel downwards. The trap, released by this action, plummets back to the sea floor. Naturally, it disappears far faster than it had come. The strange noise filling Phasma’s ears, once omnipresent and overpowering, recedes, then dies. Phasma’s wits return, accompanied by her wrath.

The captain starts down the steps from the top deck, platinum brows furrowed, and lips twisted into a borderline feral snarl. The thump of her boots over the slick aluminum rings out, turning all heads but that of the man responsible for the incident.

Three steps from the lower deck, Phasma stops. Her narrowed eyes bore into the yellow hood of the man at the panel. Grip tight on the railing, she inhales, preparing to berate him. Before she can shout, however, something launches from the water with a bestial shriek of its own. In a gray blur of motion it arcs over the deck, driving directly into the man behind the panel. Momentum sends both bodies off the port railing of the ship and into the cold, deadly waters below.

Phasma’s eyes widen in surprise, and her mouth, still open on the beginning of an unvocalized admonishment, snaps shut. Quickly processing the strange occurrence, she launches into action. “Man overboard!” She bellows, spurring her dumbstruck, motionless crew to move. Most rush to the opposite railing, peering uselessly down into the unrevealing depths. A few better equipped for crises retrieve a life saver off the wall, first. Phasma remains in place, from her elevated position scanning the waves on either side for sight of her missing crew member. She observes no trace on him beyond the foam conceived where he’d fallen.

More than guilt, Phasma feels irritation at this incident. It possesses the potential to soil her renown, one that is not simply talk, but upheld in practice. Her captures are unrivaled, her executions swift, precise, effective. It is rare she errs so massively, and rarer still she sees a casualty. Though a small chance contrary remains, Phasma suspects already that their missing crew member won’t be resurfacing alive. It’s the minute that has past since his disappearance, as well as the instinctive unease that has crept up Phasma’s spine that tells her such. In addition to irritation, Phasma is beginning to feel apprehension, too.

Despite her earlier skepticism, Phasma holds no doubt that the creature they pursue is responsible for this incident, suggesting the creature is smart, smart enough to retaliate with a precision unrivaled by Phasma’s previous hunts. Worse, they have lost hold on the creature, meaning it is free to deliver another assault unhindered. Phasma struggles to recall exactly how she’d allowed the trap to have been released moments before, but discovers she cannot. All memories as to her actions just minutes ago are either inaccessible, or surreal and distorted.

From the corner of Phasma’s vision, a flash of yellow draws her sight. A raincoat floats now atop the waves, near to where her missing crew member had vanished, and distinct from its dismal surroundings. Phasma needs not to direct her crew’s sights. Already, one has pointed, shouting, “There!” More heads turn to witness the abandoned article, for, though the coat has surfaced, there is no sign of its owner.

And then, there is.

Face down in the water, his body rises a short distance from his coat. The two of Phasma’s crew clutching a life saver better angle themselves to toss it out, calling the man’s name over the din of the storm. Phasma, cautiously approaching herself, knows already this is of no use.

A wave on the rough sea eventually tosses the bobbing body over, and the sight this reveals elicits an assortment of inhalations and swears from the crew. The dead man’s face is gone, removed by a crude means. Exposed is a grisly pink aftermath revealing the whole of his eyes, and glimmers of his skull beneath. By the same visceral method, his stomach’s been torn open, and his innards float above him, spreading in a gory cloud. Like this, he resembles a fish, gutted then discarded.

Phasma bristles at the sight, offended by the display and by the inherent threat therein. Despite her anger, however, she backs away from the railing. It is an act of self-preservation, rather than revulsion. Not all of her crew are wise enough to do the same, and there is no time left to advise them.

Before Phasma can command anyone back to the safety of the ship’s belly, two more of her crew are ripped under the railing by an alien grip on their ankles, by a familiar blur of gray. Their blunt wails of alarm echo in Phasma’s ears as she hastens for the door below deck, determined not to join them.

The shouts and cries of the less adept ring across his ship as she runs, navigating the panicked forms of her own damned crew. Chaos has consumed the Scyre in a matter of minutes, and there is nothing Phasma can do to resolve it. If any of her crew are smart enough, they’ll be joining her below deck.

Phasma nearly makes it. She is but steps from the door when a noise begins, stemming from seemingly everywhere at once. Against her will, her body loosens and stills, and her mind runs blank.

One by one, equally sedated, Phasma’s crew are stripped off the deck all around her. It’s an easy slaughter, one that might have embarrassed the captain were she really present to witness it.

When the ship falls silent at last, leaving Phasma alone but for the storm, her feet turn her away from the door she faces, away from safety, and draw her towards the railing. As she stops just before the ship’s edge, staring blankly out to sea, her body recognizes what is coming for her even though she cannot. Adrenaline, unutilized, sends a tremor through her otherwise motionless form. Still before the waves, she shakes.

When the creature comes at last, rising from the water to meet her, she goes humiliatingly easy.

 


~~~

 


Forehead creased and aching, and vision blurred with fatigue, Hux glares at the screen of his desktop. The monitor before him sits frozen on a grainy black and white image, displaying a scene he’d once observed live. Near the center of the screen, a heavily pixelated blur of motion lies frozen in the air, suspended alongside time. Its form is streamline, one end arguably humanoid, the other, very much not. Hux has paused this recording at a critical point, seconds before the creature strikes its intended target. This target is a member of Phasma’s crew and a lame, sitting duck behind the crane’s control panel. Should Hux hit play, the creature, at least double the length of the man it pursues, will collide with its prey. Both bodies will sail over the opposite railing, completing the first assault, and clipping the ribbon for the chaos to follow.

Hux does not press play, not yet. He isn’t keen to relive his defeat so soon. Steepling his fingers before his face, he exhales heavily. The pressure building behind his skull only burgeons. He’s lost the crew of a company he’d kindled, one whose services he’s called upon for nearly a decade. He’s lost their captain, Phasma, an irreplaceable asset in obtaining the curiosities that fill his annual exhibitions. Worst of all, he has lost the creature whose capture he’s been plotting for over a month, whose capture is a sensitive operation, and one ever pressed for time. A fish, caught once, learns to avoid the hook. And, Hux thinks bitterly, riled by the provocative performance the creature had put on, it has proven to be much more than a fish.

This second attempt as its capture he must now embark upon, Hux knows will be doubly difficult. He will have to think not one, but two steps ahead of the creature. He cannot deny, however, that such a challenge evokes a certain thrill. It’s been a long time since he’s met any such test. The other creatures he has collected for his annual exhibitions could bite, certainly, could scratch or sting, maul or paralyze, but none presented the type of fight Hux latently itches for, the type of fight man was designed for; one of the mind. Against the better and wiser of him, Hux is tempted, and intrigued by the beast. He’s drawn to danger, as he always has been, for the opportunity to glean more from life than mere safety affords him. Additionally, adrenaline is no small prize. Some choose to jump off planes. Hux chooses to challenge death more intimately, seeking encounters far less controlled.

With a swift, inspired tap of the space bar, Hux unpauses the recording. He wishes not to relive his failure, but wishes more not to repeat it. So as not to duplicate Phasma’s fatal errors, he’ll analyze the footage for every scrap of intel it offers.

Eyes bright in a near fervent determination, Hux watches the creature take its first victim a second time. Then, as though a god above a battlefield, he watches the remaining crew scramble about on the screen in the minutes to follow. He watches them die, picked off one by one, as though the creature possesses a sadistic streak. It very well might.

Phasma is the last to die, and hers is the only death to evoke any feeling within Hux. She was a proud woman, and this was a death unbefitting of her. Still, Hux watches undeterred, leaning nearer to the screen as the ghostly image of Phasma ambles closer to the railing. She walks as though hypnotized, and stops just before the rails to peer blankly out to sea. While the creature meets her there, rising sinisterly from the water to secure its human prey, it does not immediately drag her down. Instead, it reaches to take her face between two humanoid hands, an act that at the distance the camera provides looks nearly tender. The creature’s mouth opens next, a gaping maw spreading impossibly wide on Hux’s monitor. Hux wishes the video resolution were clear enough he might view its teeth, might view its monstrous smile displayed before it rips Phasma under the water at last, predictably to devour her.

After both bodies are gone beneath the waves, the screen shows only an unmanned ship bobbing morosely on the sea. Its white hull is smeared with blood; the final traces of its absent crew. Twisting their dial, Hux returns the volume to his speakers, greeted now by a mere gentle white noise; transmission static, blurred by the hollow roar of the sea. Gone is the harsh sound to have assaulted his ears earlier in the recording, as well as when he had observed the scene live. Resembling some ceaseless, distorted scream, the abrasive noise had bled twice through the speakers; once preceding the first assault, and again in the middle of the second. Hux knows not what to make of it. He has reason to suspect the sound somehow provoked the fatal idleness of Phasma’s crew, though such a conclusion feels absurd. And yet, by Hux’s fifth viewing, one he watches with his volume up, he considers what sound-canceling technology he has at his disposal.

This second capture attempt that must now occur is too delicate a maneuver to delegate. Hux intends to oversee it directly, and will not be making the same mistakes as had occurred aboard the /Scyre/. The trip will be unpleasant, cold, and still, a small fire burns inside Hux to think of observing the deadly creature firsthand, of being its downfall.

Hux watches the recording until he can gather no more information from it, then rises from his chair.

 


~~~

 


As the sea swallows the distant sun, the star’s last stretches casting the horizon and sea ice awash with orange, Hux emerges from below deck. In unwelcome greeting, the cold eagerly nips his exposed features, renewing the perpetual pink that has plagued his nose and cheeks. He’s been told this is “mild” weather for the Arctic, given it is Spring. He digests this knowledge bitterly. While a week on the water, he’s no more acclimated to or fond of the cold than he’d been when he’d first arrived.

Hux and his crew drift currently over Barents Sea; a god-abandoned waste between Finland and Swalbard. These waters are desolate, fitting of a creature so obscure. Locating one of its kind hadn’t been easy. It seems very few of its species exist to begin with, and half of them are rumored to be in the hands of various world governments, experiment-riddled things floating in lab tanks. For the right price however, anything can be bought.

There exist men whose sole purpose is to monitor the cameras surveilling the deep sea cables that run between countries. They detect damages lesser creatures or natural events may cause, but are watchful, too, for anomalies such as the creature Hux seeks. While it had cost him no small amount, a monetary bribe was all it took for Hux to receive news of a sighting ahead of those that those managing the cameras answer to.

Hux has been granted a month before knowledge of the creature’s location is no longer his alone. This is a time frame that would have been adequate were it not for the wasted weeks the first, failed expedition had cost him. Now, Hux is pressed for time, and grows restless as his remaining days count down. He must acquire the creature in time, for what worth is an exhibition without its main attraction?

Unfortunately, true to the nature of fishing, there can be no rushing this capture. While Hux has positioned his ship strategically, near to the location of the first expedition’s failure, he is as blind as anyone to the migratory creature’s true whereabouts. He knows not if it has stayed or fled since the first expedition, and he knows not whether it is aware it is being pursued. Hux can be certain only that, while the creature may not anticipate a second attempt on its freedom, it will certainly recognize one. This is knowledge he intends to use against it.

Little is different between this expedition and the first. The boat is of the same breed, the crew of comparable caliber. Their distinction lies in their preparation, their divergent plan of action, and in Hux’s presence.

Despite no sign yet of the creature, Hux, who on this ship bears the title ‘Captain’, taps the plugs in his ears as he overlooks the sea, ensuring both are sound-tight. Protection from the creature’s ruinous “song” is by and large their biggest precaution, and it is what Hux believes shall spare them the fate of the first crew. Reminded by this restless action that the creature bears as large a threat to him as he does to it, that by this new plan Hux has concocted he and his crew are the true bait, rather than the animal carcass residing in a virtually vestigial trap on the ocean floor, a small thrill runs through Hux. He is confident that they will not fail, but that they might sets his veins afire.

This Is the challenge he seeks.

 


~~~

 


It is hours past dusk when the creature arrives, flaunting its presence subtly but not shyly with circular passes of the ship. Exhibited first is a mere graze of its dark tail along the surface, spotted by a man on lookout, and gone just as quickly as it’d come. Not a minute later, the tail reappears by the opposite railing, briefly teasing the water before slinking back into the cold abyss. Though the taunting tail may bear many identities, several organisms which inhabit these waters harboring a resemblance, Hux’s hunch that this display is of his creature is strong. It is both the timing of this performance, and the flagrant nature of these appearances, which bring him to this conclusion.

Since his review of the first assault, Hux has long suspected the creature hunts at night. He suspects too that this flashy behavior of the creature may be its own baiting; a sly effort to draw as many men on deck as possible so that it may feast like a fox in a henhouse. Confident that they will not fall prey, Hux summons all existing men from below deck regardless. While they posses an upper hand still which escapes the creature’s knowledge, he believes he may require all available hands to wrestle the creature aboard.

As news of the creature’s arrival spreads through the crew, a tense energy builds on deck. Hux has spared these men no details as to the fates of their predecessors. Though some of those Hux had hired initially had bailed upon learning the dangers of this mission, plenty still remain, either foolishly self-assured, or adequately persuaded by the high pay the role offers.

Requested by Hux, two men emerge from below deck with a reinforced netting, netting capable of withstanding a heavy load, or a powerful catch. They keep back for now, wary and not yet required, but Hux, fearless and heady with adrenaline, approaches the railing.

A light rain falls currently, misting the air. It is the last of the weakening fits the storm that caught the first crew has to offer. It slicks, and further chills the railing Hux grips now. Feeling as though he is rather overlooking a cliff edge, he peers off the ship, observing, just in time, a deliberately lengthy glide of the creature’s dark tail through blacker water. The creature is swift still to slink from sight, evidently not ready to begin. Hux, however, is. Raising the bright lantern he carries with him, Hux squints through the cold and numbing rain. Elation strikes him when the water below offers a reciprocal glow, pale pink in color.

This glow, an isolated, ovular instance in the water, grows gradually in intensity. What began a soft pink, easily mistaken for a trick on tired eyes, develops into a deep, unmistakable red over the course of a minute, bright as the lights adorning an ambulance. Parallel to this glow, an atmospheric pressure builds in the surrounding air, comparable to that Hux experienced inside the jet which brought him here. He shifts his jaw against this discomfort and, careful not to allow his eyes off the water long, quickly consults the sound level meter stored in his pocket.

The digits on the meter’s screen climb rapidly, promptly breeching 100 decibels, and climbing still. Despite the screen’s numbers suggesting a sound to rival a gunshot however, Hux feels nothing but pressure, and hears nothing but a faint whine beyond the plugs filling his ears. Pocketing the meter, he smiles something unsettling. His precautions have proven adequate, and the creature has undoubtedly arrived. They have it.

Releasing the railing, but clutching still his raised lantern, Hux lifts his unoccupied hand in signal. His open palm indicates plainly: wait. The water below him glows blazing, and the pressure compounding his eardrums has exceeded uncomfortable, but the pain does not dissuade Hux. Observing the red water below him, all too aware what presence this glow signifies, Hux is reminded of a sailor’s warning. Except, at the sight of a blood-red sky, sailors are meant to stay at bay. Hux is behaving quite the opposite.

It appears his eagerness is met, for the glow below him nears the surface. Soon, the body bearing this light is discernable, and then, a face. This face is distorted by the dark water, barely a silhouette of a head against a backdrop of ominous red, but the shifting shadows around it suggest hair, fanning out from the creature’s skull. Nearer and nearer the creature advances, until, at last, its forehead breaches the surface. Hux’s breath catches in his throat as the creature, captivating in the way only deadly things are, reveals itself.

As Hux stares transfixed at a prize he hasn’t yet acquired, his stare is met by not one, but two sets of eyes, all four glowing the same, intense red which has bled into the surrounding waters. The creature’s face, human enough in form, but alien in presentation, fades next into the beginning of nose, one dark, and raised from the creature’s skin like a muzzle. As the creature hovers, barely its face and shoulders above the waves, it watches Hux. Its expression betrays nothing, and still Hux’s blood pulses in his ears at the undeniable danger present.

Enthralled, Hux locks eyes with death, and neither blink.

This temporary standoff, this tense evaluation of one another, is fleeting, and yet exists on a separate plane of time. Harbored within seconds, an eternity passes before the creature reaches for Hux. Its behaviors are cautious, but not enough so. Its hand, dark as its tail and clawed, webbed, wet, and shining, reaches for Hux like a child candy they believe they have earned. Hux allows its hand to rise, watching it come nearer and nearer, aware that should it grasp him, his life is certainly over. And yet, he lets it come within inches of his flesh before closing his open, signalling palm, and permitting his listless men to act at last.

A weighted net fires into the water from a canon held by one of Hux’s men. Swiftly, it encapsulates a creature that reacts a split-second too late, still confident Hux and his men were hypnotized and hapless, still confident it was predator, rather than prey. Enraged and violent, the creature thrashes as the ropes tethering its net haul up against the ship’s hull. Hux steps back, lowering both his lantern and signalling fist, and watches.

It’s perfect.

The creature, too heavy and too strong to be hauled by hand, has the ends of its net hooked to the ship’s crane. As the crank whirs to life, raising the beast from the sea it calls home, the creature tosses powerfully enough to put a waver in the arm of the crane. The mesh of the net bears so tightly into its flesh, however, that it cannot much thrash without causing itself injury.

Tingling still with a rush of adrenaline which hasn’t yet left him, and a rush of possession only just begun, Hux oversees the creature’s board and transfer subdeck before retiring there himself, satisfied.

 


~~~

 


The creature is kept, sedated, inside a small, saltwater tank below deck where it will remain for the voyage back to shore. There, it will be transported aboard a private jet, but for now, it slumbers undisturbed in a room only Hux has access to. Hours after the capture, after the fuss has died down and Hux has finished settling his and the creature’s navigation back home, he pays the creature a visit.

The room is dim, quiet but for the muted sound of the ship’s thrumming mechanics. As Hux shuts the door behind himself, he finds himself alone with his possession for the first time.

The creature drifts upright in a tank rather tight for its size, its position maintained by minute twitches of its impressive tail whenever its heavy form threatens to sink. In length, Hux observes, the creature is roughly one and a half times his own height. Its form is lithe, betraying the ribs caging its more vulnerable organs, yet Hux doesn’t doubt its strength. Adorning its body, from head to tail, are small, circular, luminescent patches that rather resemble the lights lining a runway. Subdued from their earlier red, they tinge the water around them pink. After traveling the length of the creature, Hux’s eyes fix for a long time upon its face.

Dark hair floats about the creature’s head, twisting and coiling like kelp in the tank’s gentle current. The creature’s twin sets of eyes rest open, though Hux harbors no doubt that the creature is unconscious. Like the lights along its body, these red eyes appear to glow. However, this may merely be the glow from the grooves framing the creature’s eyes. This design is not unlike a mask, the grooves shaped like a horizontal eight, and perched atop its nose. Paired with the darker, raised snout of the creature, this illusion of a mask is maintained. Closer now, Hux can see the creature’s nostrils, and he wonders as to its respiratory capabilities. Unfortunately, as this is his only specimen, such internal details that only an autopsy would reveal remain unilluminated.

This close to its power, Hux longs to see the creature in action again, up close this time, and with the creature under his control. He knows however that he must wait. Tests of the creature’s natural talent, its intelligence, and its ability to be molded to Hux’s desire, might prove catastrophic on a ship where too many variables lie uncontrolled, and too many lives at stake. Soon, though, when he has made it back home and the creature rests among his collection, then he can begin grooming it for display.

Sighing like a child before a display of toys at the mall, Hux studies the creature a little while longer. Eventually, though he’s nowhere near had his fill, and the novelty of the creature still demands exploration, he exits the small room. He is not a child, after all, and knows of patience.

 


~~~

 


Kylo wakes disconnected from his inborn sense of up and down. He wakes with no sense as to his location in waters which taste stale. Lights above him suggest he is near the surface, and yet, their hostile white glow is reminiscent not of the sun. Less delayed than the rest of his mind’s processes, instinct implores that he orient himself at once, that he assess his surroundings, that he cease this vulnerability. He is slow to comply.

Steadying himself against a wave of nausea, Kylo eventually acclimates, and takes in his unfamiliar surroundings. The water here isn’t simply stale, but still, void of the current he has always known. The light, above, can be from no natural source, and grating against Kylo’s ears is a strange white noise he can neither evade nor source. Establishing the ground, at least, as his leaden tail scrapes over it, Kylo orients himself. Still, he finds he remains clueless as to what waters he has ventured into. He knows only that they are warmer than those he was last in, and that there is something distinctly wrong with them. Here, the sea seems sick, lethargic, poisoned. Eager to abandon this realm, Kylo ventures forwards.

Below him, the ground is devoid of debris, lacking its sand, and consisting instead of some dark, naked stone. As he swims, Kylo allows his fingers to drag over it, and prickles with unease at the sensation. Here, there are no plants, no rocks, and no fish to accompany him. Such a barren realm suggests either a lurking predator, or, lending to Kylo’s original theory, that these waters are somehow diseased.

With a flick of his tail, Kylo hastens. He glides quickly through the open water, uninhibited until his face meets harshly with something. This collision with an unseen obstacle reverberates down his form, causing his dully throbbing head to ache worse. Recovering, but no less agitated, Kylo reaches out to feel at this invisible obstacle. More attentive than previous, he can almost discern the inconspicuous barrier, and can see beyond it, too. Ahead lies a darkness he cannot access, one just as empty as his current waters. Palms sliding along the barrier, Kylo feels for its end, or in the very least, a hole within the partition. The wall betrays no such weaknesses.

Deeply unsettled by this strange, insurmountable barrier, Kylo propels himself away to test the opposite direction. Troubled, he travels quickly now, and pays for this pace when he collides hard into a second wall. To meet with another barrier settles panic truly in his gut, and twisting sharply, he attempts a third direction to the same result. Aware now that no direction is of avail, he shoots towards the surface and startles to discover no sky above him when he meets the air. Instead, surrounding him is a cave of sorts. A dozen faux stars line dot the not-sky, each threatening Kylo with their alien brightness, and lining the cave is a stiff netting, one which appears to sprout off of he barriers below. To observe this netting jars a memory within Kylo. Too quickly, he recalls just how he came to be in these waters. Too quickly, he recalls his defeat.

Kylo growls to remember the human who had fooled him, resisting, somehow, his song, and achieving triumph through deceit. Skin bright with rage, he ducks back below the water to launch himself at the barrier again. This time, his collisions are deliberate. He assaults the wall first with palms outstretched, and eventually with his entire frame, battering the unrelenting surface to no result but pain. He continues well past exhaustion, continues even after his impacts weaken, and pain sets his body trembling in spite of his efforts to disregard it. For all his determination, still the barrier shows no signs of crumbling.

It is only at a sound arising from beyond the barrier that Kylo stops. Quickly, he extracts himself, his senses strained for the source of the noise. He feels acutely vulnerable, no shelter to take, and no way to defend himself from whatever is ahead. A warning growl builds inside his chest, low and nearly inaudible. It paases a shudder through him which gradually flares his fins in caution, and spurs the lights along his skin even brighter. His jaw loosens, prepared to strike, but not yet betraying more than a glint of teeth.

Despite Kylo’s proximity, it is difficult to make out much beyond the barrier. The lights above him, half-reflected by the wall, blur the world beyond it. Movement ahead, however, catches his gaze well enough. Hovering still a wary distance from the barrier, Kylo waits mostly blind, and listens to the strange, pattered echoes to reach his ears through the water. At these sharp sounds, he comes to recognize that the realm beyond the barrier is not of water, but of air. This notion disorients him, alarms him, but more immediate threats demand his attention.

Soon, Kylo is able to identify the source of the sound; an approaching figure, a human. At this distance, he cannot make out the human’s features, but as they come closer, he finds them not merely discernable, but familiar. Kylo’s fear, a cold substance within, diminishes in the wake of the fresh indignation to boil inside him. Before him is the human who had stood above Kylo as he sang, resisting his call. Before him is the human who had fooled him, boldly using himself as bait for a trap Kylo had fallen for. Kylo’s growl builds in volume. His fins flare to their fullest, but the human, who pauses just an arm’s length from the barrier, appears unaffected by this display.

Sore, exhausted, and aware eventually that this act does nothing to intimidate, Kylo quiets. His fins drop partially in resignation, and his growl goes gradually. After a time, a dares to drift nearer to the barrier, near enough for a closer look at the human, but not so near that he is within reach. He remains tense, prepared to retreat a the first glint of danger.

Closer now, and curious, Kylo locks eyes with the human. Despite current circumstance and past failures, the human is still prey, still temptingly close. Coming to this revelation, Kylo choses to press his luck, sinking until his face is level with the human. Here, he steadies himself, fanning water over his gills, and drowning his declining growl with a new sound. This sound starts in his chest, a simple pressure which progresses to his throat where he perfects the pitch. His lights, dimmed, flare bright once again, and soon, his song begins.

As always, it begins quietly, but rapidly it builds, soon vibrating the water around Kylo and rattling even the barrier. Impatiently, he waits for the posture of the human before him to slacken, for the human’s strange, white-bordered, land-dwelling eyes to glaze over, but they never do.

Frustrated as the failure of his song grows evident, Kylo stops. His song tumbles to an abrupt halt, and he shoots forwards, slamming his palms against the barrier. How!? he demands, pressing the incensed question directly into the human’s mind.

Though Kylo’s song had proven ineffectual, this earns him a reaction. The human’s eyes widen a fraction, and his brows shoot upwards. Not missed by Kylo’s predatory gaze, the human also rears backwards a fraction from the barrier he had stood so fearlessly behind before.

While the human quickly reigns his expressions of alarm, he does nothing to disguise the anger swift to overtake his features. His brows lower, then furrow, tightly bracketing his eyes, and his small mouth curls into a snarl that, despite his lacking sharp teeth, proves intimidating in its own right.

Kylo considers lifting his hands from the barrier, but doesn’t.

Soon, the human speaks, using his mouth, rather than his mind. “I’d have thought you’d have learned the futility of your stunt already, but you demonstrate otherwise.”

Wary and confused, Kylo offers no response. Instead he continues to watch, guarded.

The human, with one of his strange, pale fingers, taps at a discolored circle in his ear before dropping his hand. “Do you see these?” He asks, redundantly. “So long as they are in place, you’ll trigger no hypnosis. You will soon learn too that there are consequences for attempting such things.”

Kylo’s claws bear slightly into the barrier. The human makes preposterous claims. Kylo cannot be forced to do, or to stop doing, anything.

You cannot make me, he informs.

“I can,” the human responds assuredly, and Kylo bristles. “I will.”

No.

At Kylo’s protest, the human presses even closer to the barrier, and Kylo finds himself wishing to recoil.

“You are mine,” the human spits with a sudden passion. “You belong to me, now, and you will acquiesce to my desires. Consider this your warning, as all further misconduct will be met with reprimand.”

Kylo twitches in agitation, and his claws squeal over the barrier as he nearly forms fists. His jaw parts, baring both his teeth and his displeasure at these words. This human cannot command him. He ought to be fearful of him.

The human, proving contrary, raises a hand to the barrier, resting it opposite of Kylo’s. “You are mine, “he repeats with a quiet reverence.

Kylo withdraws his hands at last, yanking them back from the wall.

No!

This time, Kylo receives nothing but a grim smile.