Rays of warm light glowed softly, piercing the ocean’s glassy surface and fading into deep blue depths as the sun above reached its highest peak. Bubbles floated up and around Naruto’s body glimmering like little pearls, surrounding the merman with their delicate beauty as he reached up towards the heavens, propelling his strong tail through the current. Climbing out of the cold and barren shelf and into the shallows were reefs teemed will all sorts of life. From aggressive eels, to playful dolphins, goofy clownfish, intelligent octopus, vibrant corals and sea enemies, to stunningly beautiful—but deadly—lion fish, and so many more wonderful species of fish and coral that Naruto couldn’t name them all. The list was endless.
For most his life he’s been coming up to the shallows, and every time he’s spotted something new.
It was all truly amazing and exciting.
Curious by nature, the young absolutely loved discovering new things—especially human things. Which made him very different among his kind. He stood out…and in a bad way with his undesirable hobbies and unique appearance.
Unlike the other mermaids or mermen, Naruto’s skin tone was much darker in color and slightly thicker from the sun tanning it. Most merfolk were pale, sickeningly so. Borderline transparent. He was the only one who’d ever dare going near the surface—unless it was absolutely necessary for gathering food. And it showed.
Because of that, the few remaining mer’s that Naruto knew of treated him as an outcast. They certainly didn’t share his interest with the human artifacts. In fact, they feared it like it was a curse object or something as equally absurd.
Funny that they didn’t feel that way about the sunken vessels they all used as homes to hide away in at night.
Now add his cropped hair and dark complexion to the mix and he was a living mermaid repellant. A disgrace to his kind. Mers took their appearance very seriously and he was a fashion catastrophe in their opinion. A pariah.
So he wasn’t the most beautiful or handsome merman in his clan, but at least he wasn’t spending his life cowering away in dark little hidey-hole.
It was ridiculous that so much status was placed on looks alone. He understood to some extent—the part where they took great pride in their long, flowing hair and glamorous fins. That was nice and all, but the length of one’s hair should not be the main priority for a species on the brink of extinction.
And besides, it was impractical to have hair reaching all the way down to his pictorial fins. It just got tangled up in the reefs, caves and kelp forests whenever he went out exploring. More than once Naruto was subjected to endure considerable pain after ripping off strands of golden hair from his scalp whenever it got snared on something. If he was being chased by a shark when that happened…well, he would’ve been lunch.
He’d rather not go there…
As it was, Naruto pretty much had the entire section of the shallows and reef to himself. He preferred it that way, too…most of the time. But sometimes it did get lonely. Months have passed since he’s ran into another of his kind. Not that there were many left.
Suffocating large algae blooms, mass bleaching of corrals from rising sea temperatures, toxins in food, and the lack of fish around from the huge ships that pass by, greedily snatching them all up with their mile long nets, have all devastated the mer population in recent years. And with the ever decreasing population of sea life all around, they weren’t the only ones suffering. It was the end of their era.
Naruto was the last of his species to be born in over three decades. For all he knew there have been no other merbabies conceived since. It was a sore subject among the merfolk and the reason there was now strict laws and regulations in regards to breeding rights. Only the strongest and most influential were allowed to pair in hopes of producing a healthy heir.
Basically that meant Naruto had no chance of ever gaining a mate under his deplorable status.
In fact, the merfolk made it atrociously clear that Naruto was on the bottom of that ‘desirable mate’ list when they forbade him from learning the basics of reproduction. Even by his own parents. All he knew was that he was a healthy sexually mature adult male. That’s it. Pretty fucked up that he didn’t even know how he was made or what babies looked like or what mating entailed, and it was very unlikely that he ever would.
The only plus side in the matter was how being the last to be born influenced his character. There was no real hope or future to look forward to so Naruto liked to live life to the fullest. Without fear of what might be out there to get him, knowing the world was brighter on the surface than wasting away without any real purpose in the dark, murk depths.
So for that, he was grateful to be the last one. To not know what life was like prior to their apocalyptic world. To not be so hell bent on survival that he’d never get to experience what living life freely was like in the first place. However, it also took a toll on him—
There was a constant ache in his chest knowing he was one of the last living merman, yet there was nothing he could do about it. They were nothing more than a dying species desperately trying to fight off the brink of extinction like so many other species have tried to and failed. He would never know what it would be like to have a lover, have a child, or carry a baby in his arms—all things his body craved for on a primal level.
But more than anything Naruto just wanted to raise a child.
He wasn’t picky, any child would do really. It didn’t have to be his. He would love it all the same. Naruto just wanted someone in his life to share his experiences with, preferably one who’d appreciate him and maybe even look up to him as a role model someday. To have the little long-tailed bugger by his side and watch his or her face light up when he shared all his secret treasures, fishing grounds and hideaways. To school on what was safe to eat or not, what types of fish were friendly and what ones meant trouble, and so, so much more.
Those were only a few things he wish he could pass down on a future generation. Happy things in Naruto’s life that he wished his parents would’ve taught him. But all that would never happen…
Some dreams were never meant to come true.
Instead, the merman continued on doing what he loved most. Exploring. But even he wasn’t naive enough to not to know there were many risks associated with it.
Danger. And a lot of it.
It was a steep price. One he was willing to pay.
Hungry sharks often prowled the shelf and shallows for an easy meal. Mermen were defiantly included on that dinner menu. And that was only one threat lurking underneath the waves. Countless others still existed. Perhaps the biggest one of them all was above the surface. The place were Naruto liked spending most of his time soaking up the sun’s warm summer rays. The place that held the biggest threat to all merfolk. Humans.
Throughout history there has always been bad blood between humans and merfolk.
Although this area was generally considered safe from the destructive and invasive species, there was still an occasional boat carrying the human as they passed by. Always in the far distance, but still too close for comfort. They rarely approached anywhere near the island.
And for good reason.
The volcanic island where Naruto called home was completely surrounded by sharp corals that could easily strip the steel off of any ship like a tin can if the vessel so much as dared to get near. While the smaller boats could approach much closer, they would still need to make it through the clawing waves and strong undertow to reach the safe zone.
In all his years, the merman has never once witnessed a ship make it to shore before. But he has heard stories from others like himself. Plus there was plenty of evidence from the shipwrecked skeletons lining the ocean bottom like a mass graveyard. Added together at least some of the rumors had to be true: At some point in time, humans have tried on multiple occasions to take over the island, or at least get on it.
Naruto’s personal favorite story was the one that placed his parents as the hero’s.
Long before Naruto was born, a large vessels carrying dozens of humans captured a young mermaid in a net. Minato (Naruto’s father) was able to save the baby girl by tearing the net open with his teeth. Although successful in the rescue attempt, his father was witnessed by a few of the men on board the ship. Months later the fishermen had returned to trap and capture all the merfolk. They had brought reinforcements.
It ended in a massacre, or so Naruto was told.
As the Mer’s prepared to defend themselves, Kushina (Naruto’s mother) sat in the frontlines, singing one of the most beautiful songs on rock, entrancing the fishermen. Luring the men into a jagged stretch of reef where they awaited a watery grave. While the ship slowly sunk, the leaders of Naruto’s clan surrounded the defenseless humans and ripped them all to shreds. Pulling at their limbs until the sea was painted red with their blood. Until there were no witnesses left to tell the tragic ending.
It was not the first or last time something like that had happened. For centuries merfolk and humans have been in conflict with each other. And for centuries the grizzly outcome remained the same, or close to it.
Yet his kind still used the steel skeletons of human ships as sturdy homes.
Kinda macabre now that he thought about it.
Each party was painted as the cut-throat villain depending on which side was telling it. Facts blurred with superstition dampened the truths. Fearful of the bias fables, mermaids retreated into the depths, out of reach from the scary baby-snatching humans, and humans avoided the ‘cursed’ island altogether.
But Naruto was different.
He believed that merfolk were meant to live in harmony with the humans, bask on rocks, play in the surf, sing for the love of it, and socialize in large colonies.
They have the rare ability to breathe underwater and on land, after all. And ability to speak in many languages if taught to do so.
At the very least, merfolk should be venturing the islands waterways, then explore the nearby lands and underwater caverns when there was nothing else left to discover—which Naruto found highly improbable.
There was always something new to find.
But that’s not what they did, or at least not any mermaid Naruto knew of did. They remained cowering deep below the surface instead. Ever fearful of being discovered by the predators or mankind.
Naruto swam upwards towards the surface, passing by shoals of fish gathered together to ride the easy current and conserve energy. He greeted them with a few chirpy clicks and a flick of his tale. They scattered away fearfully and he laughed. The young merman wasn’t looking for food. Before he even thought about digesting a meal, he needed warm up in the shallows first.
After a long night’s sleep in frigid temperatures, the soft, sun-baked sand gave his cold and shivering body a boost of energy and comfort that he didn’t know he was missing until the first time he dared venture near the surface. As much as the merman craved the sun’s blessed warmth more than breakfast, he always had to be extra careful and ever vigilant when approaching the reef. Constantly scouting for danger.
The visibility stretched much further here, making Naruto a big neon target the second the sunlight reflected off his scales. In the great depths, there was always darkness there to shroud him and he could easily escape hungry predators by retreating into his rusty metal home. He was more far more agile and slim than the larger sharks. They couldn’t fit through the small openings that led to his nest.
But out in the open…he was easy pickings.
The scales on his body were delicate and fragile, hardly considered protection from a sharks razor sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Tiny claws on his webbed hands were better suited for prying open oysters and snaring fish than attacking with. A merman was no match for a barrel width bull shark.
The apex predator would win every time.
As a safety precaution, every single time Naruto rose up from the great abyss he’d make sure to keep an eye out for his two best friends, Gamakichi and Gamatatsu. The two young bottlenose dolphin brothers. It was a sure sign that no sharks were in the area if they were around. And if one did manage to escape their exceptional radar, dolphins also made a badass body guard. Nothing was going to fuck with them as long as they worked together as a team—which they always did.
Looking around, Naruto spotted a twin set of fins in the far distance. He powered up his thrusts and propelled forward at maximum speed. The sooner he got away from the cold and barren seabed the better.
Like clockwork, the dolphins became excited as soon as they spotted him.
Gamakichi defied physics, as per usual, by zipping through the water like a torpedo and launching out of the sea, leaving a jetstream of bubbles in his wake. Like it was nothing to exert that much energy or fly that high into the open air.
Gamakichi was easily the best jumper out of the group of the mismatched friends. Only he could successfully land a backflip ten feet into the air and make it appear effortless.
It was anything but.
Naruto always had a good time with the athletic bundles of energy he called friends. They challenged him and pushed his body to the limits.
A stream of bubbles fizzled behind Naruto’s red tail fins with each vigorous swipe of his tail as he darted through the water like a swordfish, reaching speeds that would’ve made any other merman envious. If the dolphin was going to shove his mad acrobatic skills in the blonde’s face, then he was going to have to deal with a little friendly competition.
The other dolphin, Gamatatsu, joined Naruto half way up, racing him to the top without a care in the world. When they finally broke through the surface of a choppy wave together, Naruto couldn’t hold back his excitement any longer and squeaked with joy.
His streamlined body spun gracefully midair, water raining down his tail sparkled like tiny diamonds while he leaped as high as he could go. Sunlight danced off the long length of his elegant tail, bringing forth a golden gleam on the shimmery yellow scales. Never was he more beautiful than when the sun embraced him. The vivid yellows, oranges and reds of his scales burned bright and rich like the setting sun. In the dull blues of the ocean his colors were muted. But in the sun…his tail was a fiery gold with crimson tips.
Diving beneath the waves again, the merman couldn’t help but wonder what the dolphin brothers wanted to do today. Sometimes they searched for pretty shells together. Other times they disturbed sleeping fish, gathered human garbage floating on the surface, body surfed huge waves depending on the weather—or his personal favorite—play a game of catch with an old sand dollar skeleton.
Even though he was able to do these all things with them and produce similarly high frequency sounds that dolphins used to communicate with, Naruto was still unable to speak their language, per say…at least not yet. Over time, he’s developed a special language with Gamakichi and Gamatatsu. One that was unique and only understood only between each other.
Playing might’ve been a lot of fun with the dolphins, but it didn’t take very long for Naruto to learn that he needed to establish a boundary between himself and the dolphins quickly. They were much stronger and larger than he was. Even though his tail exceeded theirs in length, the merman’s lean frame was not nearly as bulky. It hurt like heck when one of them would accidently ram him too hard, typically whenever they played a game of tag. Then there was the fact that they were bachelor dolphins. Meaning they were always horny.
On more than one occasion they’d gotten a little too frisky and tried mating him. And that was when Naruto decided to set some ground rules and develop the language.
Luckily for him, they were a very intelligent species that picked up social cues after very little training.
A series of clicks, high and low, grunts or tail slaps were used to break the language barrier. Keeping it basic, three clicks was a yes, three high and one low click was a no. Four slow, low pitched squeals meant back off and that they were being too rough.
He was never able to communicate anything more complex with them, but Naruto loved them anyways…and he like to believe they felt the same way about him. They always did keep coming back day after day for him, after all.
Time flew by as Naruto played with the brothers. But since they had short attention spans, he’d have to switch up the games quite often—not that the blond minded.
They spent a considerable amount of time body surfing every moderate sized wave that developed nearby. Played a few rounds of catch the sand dollar, and then a round of tag. Before the dolphin left to hunt for their lunch, they assisted Naruto with his afternoon clean up/scavenging routine. Picking up any waste, debris, or hazardous materials that they could find floating in the water or collecting along the beach shoreline. It was a tedious task but even the dolphins understood how important it was to keep the area clean.
And it was always a nice surprise when he’d find something interesting or pretty to add to his collection.
Although dangerous and unpredictable, humans still intrigued Naruto.
He loved collecting their little trinkets he found when savaging the wrecks and shoreline. Anything shiny was his absolute favorite. If it shimmered like a shoal of mackerel it was a definite must have in his opinion. He’d like to think of himself as a man of good taste.
So it was a pity that no one else had shared his taste in collecting the beautiful artifacts.
However, Naruto did not find all that human trash he found nice. Not at all. There was a whole lot more harmful stuff coming in from the currents than the good stuff. Causing a major blow to the ecosystem. In that instance, Naruto could understood why the other merfolk didn’t share his taste in manmade objects.
Hard, inedible objects often washed ashore, polluting the water and pristine beaches. Flying animals from above the surface that preyed on small fish would often mistake the inedible objects as food or even become ensnared with the stuff, suffering a slow and agonizing death. Same goes for every sentient creature living underwater. Actually, aquatic animals seemed to be even more susceptible to the hidden danger.
It was horrifying when found one of his little friends fall victim to it. There were a few times Naruto was able to save the animal, freeing the innocent creature from the cruel confines of the wasteful material. But if the animal ate the stuff…it was already too late. There was nothing he could do to save them from that fate.
So, every day he collected harmful objects that he came across, patrolling the shoreline and waves for anything suspicious the tides brought in. Whenever he found something he would place all the trash on a designated pile near a flat rocky ledge, safely out of reach from susceptible animals. The original pile has grown quite large over the years so he’s had to make a few more. He was proud of his hard work and dedication to the project, which was reward enough.
With every piece of trash he collected he felt a strong sense of accomplishment and pride for doing something good.
By the time they had finished the ‘clean up’ rotation of the island, Naruto and the dolphin brothers were famished. The dolphins split up, using their sonar abilities to seek out and stun hiding fish buried in the sandy bottom. Yet they stayed close enough to Naruto so that he could snack on kelp in relative safety.
But Naruto wasn’t in the mood for fish today.
Rather, he was hoping to find something sweeter. Something that came from the island, not the sea. A rare and delicious succulent treat.
After taking a few bites of the unsatisfying salty plant, the blond took off to the caves in search for a better meal.
A labyrinth of underground tunnels snaked beneath the island, connecting land to sea in the most unlikely of sections. Lava formed underground tunnels ages ago, and now the merman used them like a secret passageway to reach places he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Bioluminescence from his tail light flickered on, illuminating the pitch black caverns in a soft glow, only enough to avoid running into the walls. He used sonar to navigate through the forks in the path. Being so familiar with the tunnel system, Naruto didn’t need to use it much. Instead mostly relying on instinct alone.
It look many attempts to confidently know where he was going when he first started exploring the cave system. There were many failed attempts. Most of the tunnels led to dead ends, and some led to pools too small for him to swim in. Over time, he learned all the tall-tale signs that singled he was getting close to his secret cove. Like the more inland he swam, the lower the salinity in the water was.
Unlike other salt water creatures, Naruto was still able to breathe just fine with the change. Although, it did makes his gills feel itchy after a while. Or he would’ve taken up residence in his favorite spot a long time ago, it was free from predators.
After a few more minutes of navigating through the dark and desolate tunnels, a sphere of light could be seen coming from the other side. He was getting close.
Naruto paddled faster, eager to reach the destination.
Pushing through the final stretch of caverns, the claustrophobic underwater channel opened up like a blooming flower, spilling into a vast fresh water pool. Massive ferns and tropical plants blanketed the surrounding rocky bank, reflecting off the crystalline water like a life sized oil painting. Rich and vibrant colors bled together like emeralds lying in a bed of aquamarine. Branches thicker than Naruto’s waist twisted and reached for the other side as if trying to shake hands with the trees on the other side. Their vibrant green leaves spotted with beads of dew sparkled in the light. Trees were filled with small birds and insects that sang their songs of love and life. Their sounds foreign to the ones Naruto heard underwater. So crisp and unique. It was breathtaking.
It was always breathtaking.
Flora of every shape and size carpeted the ground, teeming with both life and an abundant supply of food. So much so, that Naruto suspected this must be the lands version of a coral reefs. That or he would be extremely envious if all the land in world was this prosperous—when the ocean was so vast and stark and dark in comparison.
It wouldn’t be fair.
Even the water seemed to behave differently here. It fell from the sky in a towering wall, cascading off the edge of a cliff. The vertical stream appeared endless, never once slowing down or shrinking as it filled up the pool below, baffling the young merman. It roared like a savage beast with power and fierceness that he’s never witnessed before, blanketing the valley in mist below and providing nourishment to the trees. Naruto enjoyed the challenge of battling against its current, the workout kept his body in top shape. It also might’ve been a little fun…
But Naruto wasn’t here for a workout.
He immediately headed over to the pebbly beach in hopes to find a sweet treat, his sapphire eyes scanning the bank for anything that looked edible.
The green and red mounds with a bright yellowy inside were his personal favorite. They occasionally fell from the trees and whenever he found one he’d waste no time in snatching it up. Their hard center core was difficult to chew through, but the fruit was delicious and unlike anything he’s ever tasted from the sea. Naruto called them sunkisses, because they were bright and sweet and tangy and made his taste buds zing.
There was none on the ground today so the blond had to settle with the small, brown hairy fruit that made his lips pucker. It was also good.
Naruto sighed softy, munching on his lunch as he lounged on a smooth bolder away from the waterfalls spray. Lazily watching the birds fly by. Secretly wishing he could sprout wing one day and take flight with them.
Birds always seemed to have the most fun.
More importantly, the feathered critters never seemed to be alone…
Days, weeks, months, years passed by with little change in the young merman’s daily routine. Until one day, a strange new creature suddenly appeared on the island, changing Naruto’s fate forever.