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Lost

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                Shouyou flitted through the water with a laugh as he swam past Tobio and Yuu. With a frustrated growl, Tobio shot after him in an effort to keep up. Yuu grinned and sped up as well. Shouyou paused at the edge of a reef and looked out at the vast expanse of water. He could see many boats scattered about, some large and some small. His brilliant orange tail flicked back and forth as he watched the boats with shining hazel eyes.

                “Dummy, get back here! It’s dangerous!” Tobio shouted at him. Shouyou’s webbed ears flicked once at the noise, an acknowledgement that he heard him, but his gaze remained fixed on the boats.

                “Shouyou! Come back,” Yuu called. He hovered just behind Tobio, whose tail was steadily turning from blue to red at being ignored. “It’s not safe and you know it.” Shouyou didn’t move. “I’m older than you, remember! You’re supposed to listen to me. Daichi and Koushi won’t be happy if you don’t! They’ll tell Ukai!” At this, Shouyou reluctantly turned and swam his way over to the other two.

                “I just wanna watch them,” he whined with a pout. Tobio smacked him on the back of the head.

                “Yeah right! You were looking ready to swim right out up to them,” he retorted with a scowl. Shouyou glared back at him and rubbed his head where the other hit him.

                “I was not,” he replied and crossed his arms, tongue stuck out like a child. Yuu laughed.

                “Come on, you two. Don’t fight!” He grinned at them, but the two remained glaring at each other. “Hey, why don’t we have a competition? See who can find the most interesting fish?” At the word ‘competition’ the other two perked up and turned to Yuu.

                “That sounds fun!” Shouyou exclaimed. His bright orange tail took on a lighter shade and shimmered with excitement. Tobio’s tail was back to its original shade of blue and he nodded. Yuu’s grin grew.

                “Alright, whoever finds the most exciting and colourful fish on this reef wins, starting…..NOW!” He darted off, and his yellow tail flashed through the water. Tobio smirked and Shouyou laughed. They split up and started hunting through the fish they saw, looking for the most colourful one.

                Shouyou scanned over the various colourful fish. He saw blues, pinks, oranges, and yellows. Suddenly, his eye caught on one; a fish with a bright yellow tail. The colour merged onto its body, where it met with a beautiful vibrant purple that covered the fish’s head. Excited, he inched forward, determined to catch it. In his excitement, he didn’t notice the spines of another fish near his tail. As his fins fluttered over the unseen fish, they made contact with the spines and he yelped at the sting as venom was injected into his tail. His cry startled the fish in front of him. In a second, he could imagine the smug look on Tobio’s face when he failed, and was determined to win. This fish would get him the win. Ignoring the pain, Shouyou shot forward and gave chase to the fish. It swam away from him, and subsequently, the reef.

                The fish flashed through the water in front of him and wove in and out of boats and other fish. Shouyou managed to keep up fairly well, he is the fastest swimmer in the Pod, after all. Behind him, he could hear Yuu and Tobio shouting, but he ignored them, completely focussed on his prey. Shadows surrounded him abruptly, and a pile of fish rose up from beneath him, silver and thrashing. Shouyou glanced around and started to panic as he realized it was a net that rose around him. He shot toward the side, but it was too late. There was no space small enough for him to slip through. Tobio and Yuu were rapidly approaching the boat, but before they could reach him, Shouyou was lifted into the air with the rest of the fish. Shouyou tried to make himself smaller, but in his pain and panic he couldn’t focus and ended up simply thrashing around as he was dropped onto the deck of the fishing boat.

                Loud exclamations frightened Shouyou as multiple humans suddenly crowded forward. He was dragged from the net and his arms were tied together behind his back with a rope. His gills flared and he choked and gasped as his body made the transition from breathing underwater to breathing air. It was always painful. He was forced to sit up, tail in front of him. His tail paled in fear until it was almost white. The humans were grinning and cheering. Shouyou struggled to back up as far as he could, but he didn’t get far before he felt a wall behind him. There were a few loud shouts, and then the entire boat lurched. Shouyou was thrown off balance and ended up lying on the deck of the boat. He struggled to right himself, but couldn’t find his balance. His heart hammered in his chest as all the tales of humans his mother had told him crept into his mind; how they descaled mers and stole their fins, then dumped them back in the ocean to die, how some mer were considered so beautiful they were put on display for other humans to look at, never to return to their home, how others were kept on ships as good-luck charms and never again allowed to see anything more than their own tiny room on the ship. He shouted and screeched and cried out in the mer tongue for help, but nobody answered his pleas. The crew men, deciding they didn’t want to listen to his mournful cries, gagged him. Shouyou struggled helplessly until he was too tired. His tail still stung, his throat was raw, his skin felt dry, and he had an undeniable hunger starting in his belly. A human had apparently been appointed to guard him, so he couldn’t even shift to try and escape. Shouyou felt his eyes sting. Water slid out of them and down his cheeks, which initially startled the mer, but he remembered one of his podmates saying something about that, how above water, water could come out of their eyes if they were distressed. He shut his eyes and let the water flow down his cheeks.

***

                Tobio and Yuu swam as hard as they could after the boat that took Shouyou, but it was too fast for them. They dodged and wove between the other boats, with all their nets, but by the time they got clear, the boat was too far for them to follow. There were several boats all in the far distance, and the two had no idea to tell which one was the one that had Shouyou from this far away.

                “Damn it!” Tobio cried out in exasperation. He clenched his webbed hands into fists and glared at the open water before them. Yuu ground his teeth together. He growled and ran his fingers through his hair angrily. Then he turned around.

                “Come on, Tobio,” he hollered over his shoulder. Tobio stared at him.

                “What?! No! NO! We can’t leave him!!” he protested, his tail flashed an angry red. Yuu’s own tail was growing steadily darker as he stopped and faced Tobio.

                “We’re not leaving him! But the two of us can’t hope to find and take on that boat and crew on our own! It’s already much faster than we are. We need to track it, find where it makes port, and hope that Shou is still alive! But to do that we should have a bigger group! It’s not safe with just two of us,” Yuu replied. His eyes were sharp and dangerous. Tobio knew better than to disobey. “Come on. Let’s do this as fast as we can.” Tobio nodded and followed Yuu as he sprinted home.