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Chrysalism

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Tailgate blinked, freezing in place at the sight before him, hands gripping the edge of the net almost tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Then he blinked again.

 

The creature tangled in the net did not disappear, nor did it break eye contact with him.

 

“Oh, god ,” Tailgate breathed out shakily, hands trembling as he took a tiny step backwards, eyes frantically flicking from place to place to better see the huge definitely- not -a-fish he had barely managed to hoist onto the boat a few minutes ago, now simply laying there silent and still in an almost frightening contrast to its earlier frantic thrashing to get away from its accidental prison. Its piercing red gaze remained fixed to his eyes, steady yet uncomfortably sharp, as if it had realized that erratic movements wouldn’t help it slip free. Now it simply watched Tailgate in silence, seemingly gauging what he would do next, chest rising and falling steadily to the rhythm of its breathing.

 

Logically, Tailgate knew he should contact the captain and tell him about the creature, but something about its eyes rooted him in his spot and prevented him from leaving. He didn’t want to leave it alone.

 

Tailgate ignored the small lump constricting his throat and briefly glanced at the being again, hoping to gain some clues as to what it might even be. Dull, faintly shimmering purple scales coated almost every inch of the beast’s leathery skin, with darker stripes running down its back and arms and woven between the ridged armor plating on its back, and a layered crest of thinner plating was pressed flat against the back of its head. Dull, wine-red fins extended from the tip of its massive tail and stuck out from its back and forearms, slowly fading into a light peach gradient at the edges, with small tears and tatters visible on the surface from what Tailgate assumed were old battle scars. Two large, forward-facing and faintly curved grey horns jutted out of its forehead, with the one on the left seemingly broken and missing. Four more similar grey spines pointed upwards from its shoulders, tapering off into razor sharp edges and resembling the giant, curved talons as long as its fingers extending from its webbed digits. Perhaps the most striking detail about the being was its face - suddenly fading from deep purple to a striking light grey, and marked with a dark mask around the eyes and a stripe of the same color extending from the corners of the mouth, protected with raised armor plating on its nasal ridge and folding into several smaller plates of bone resembling crushingly powerful teeth. Its single visible eye, vibrant bright red in color, still hadn’t wandered away and drilled into Tailgate’s own eyes with such burning intensity that he almost couldn’t look away.

 

Almost.

 

Tailgate sucked in a small, nervous breath, finally tearing his gaze away from the being’s face to look around. Spotting a sturdy dagger left atop some smaller storage crates nearby, he carefully let go of the net and reached out to grab it, taking care not to let it slip from his fingers as he threw another glance towards the creature now staring at the blade. Something dark pressed against the back of his mind.

 

Should he kill it?

 

Almost as soon as the thought had fully formed, he violently swung it away with a faint shudder. No. He couldn’t. He would not. Not with the creature suddenly looking at him again, something frighteningly human flashing in its gaze - fear.

 

It - he - was scared. Scared he was going to die.

 

Tailgate took a deep breath and raised the knife.

 

Snap.

 

A thread of the net fell onto the deck with a quiet rustle, followed by larger chunks as Tailgate frantically tore at the plastic grid in an effort to free the creature, heart pounding against his ribs and his grip on the dagger unrelenting as a near-hysterical scream of ‘what are you doing bounced around his skull repeatedly. I don’t know , he thought, but kept cutting into the net with fierce determination. He wasn’t sure what exactly had prompted him to suddenly pick such a drastic plan of action, but goddammit, he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop now.

 

The creature’s body had tensed after Tailgate had dug into the sturdy plastic, claws flexing idly, and the much smaller human did his best to ignore the sudden stab of anxiety at the thought of the sharp digits burying into his skull should he make one hasty move.

 

Soon after the initial shock of the situation began to wear off, and Tailgate pulled the last remaining bits of the tattered net from the creature’s shoulder spines - and promptly found himself being knocked right against the ship’s coaming faster than he could blink, heaving out a startled wheeze as the being in front of him abruptly became a blur of motion and launched towards him at breakneck speed, crashing down onto him with almost all its weight and webbed talons suddenly clasped around his throat. Tailgate only managed a weak, sputtering gasp of terror in response, hands instinctively flying to pry at the near-crushing grip as the strong scent of saltwater and the ocean breeze flooded his nostrils, but the look in the creature’s eyes made him freeze again.

 

Deep, burning red met pale sky blue - one a mix of fury and smoldering fire, another wide open and terrified beyond belief. The creature’s bony lips parted, leathery skin pulled into a ghastly snarl, and a seething hiss reminiscent of a furious alligator bubbled at the back of its throat - this is it , Tailgate thought through his fear-induced haze, this is how I’ll die .

 

The creature roared.

 

Droplets of saliva and seawater flew onto his face as a skull-shattering howl reverberated through the air, all of the beast’s anger condensed into one terrifying sound that nearly put Tailgate’s heart to a stop. The noise then petered out just as quickly as it had started, and the creature’s jaws closed with a snap - it gave the dazed human below it one last lingering glare, and the pressure around his throat vanished as the creature then clambered overboard and disappeared into the water with a splash and a flick of a tail.

 

Tailgate laid there for minutes afterwards, dazed and frightened, and didn’t move to sit back up before hearing his crewmates’ heavy footsteps make their way towards him as they asked him what happened and if he was alright.

 

“What was that noise? Where did it even come from?” one inquired frantically. Tailgate blinked slowly, casting one more hesitant glance towards the deep blue water beside him.

 

“I don’t know,” he eventually muttered, breathing out an anxious sigh.