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September 2017 

Freedom City 

 

They'd tried to fool Aquaria. The Freedom League had called her in to consult about a tribe of Deep Ones passing through a city on the East Coast. She'd told them the truth as far as she could tell; that the tribe passing through was small and isolated, hunter-gatherers rather than would-be conquerors. They'd probably take what food they could find from undersea and then move on. That had been enough - they'd let her go back with the promise that these Deep Ones would be unmolested. They hadn't told her out loud what she was looking at, not in so many words, but she knew the bottom of Great Bay readily enough. A Deep One tribe was here, right here - and so familiar! 

 

It was late in early September, in the middle of the long Labor Day weekend, when Sea Devil dived into Great Bay and swam deep, her armor open to the sea around her. It was, it would always be, like coming home. She'd let Jessie stay home for this one, buried deep in her studies. This was something she had to do all by herself...

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At least Sea Devil had some forewarning.  Another swimmer was about to dive into the Bay entirely unaware of what might be waiting down below.  

 

Tristan Delacroix wasn't in the best mood to begin with.  His summer so far had been...complicated, and he continued to wrestle with new lessons, some of them very painful.  That was part of what brought him out here today; the FCI labs were closed for the holiday weekend, so he used the excuse to go down to his private workshop and keep researching his latest personal projects.  Easier to change his body in fantastic ways than to make even slight improvements to his mind. 

 

He chose an unkempt disguise with more black, curly hair than face, made his own clothes from biological leaf-like fabric so he wouldn't need to bother hiding anything when he transformed again soon, took just enough cash for a cab to Riverside Park, and left his Midtown apartment.  About an hour and a traffic jam later, Tristan walked across the pleasant public greenery, paused to put one hand solemnly on the Sentry Statue memorial, and then made his way to the railing that overlooked the water.  He turned in slow circles and waited until he felt confident that no one was paying him any attention before hopping over.

 

September swimming wasn't exactly fun, but the Leviathan transformation took his mind off of the chill, and then his far superior body shut out the cold better than any wet suit.  A few kicks of his enormous flipper-feet, and the beast was headed east into the cold, dark depths, toward his lair.

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Sea Devil dived deep, doing her best to follow the trails she remembered from her own time living far beneath the surface of Great Bay. It wasn't easy, though - the sandy mud that was much of the bay's surface left few trails for long, and much of the debris she'd learn to use as trail markers had been removed or swept aside by the tides. She wound up swimming out to the very middle of the bay, where the acoustics were best when there were few great ships in the harbor, and retracting her armor around her head. As the cool, ill-tasting salt water touched her skin, she closed her eyes and strained her ears, listening to the utmost. There were a few of the great ships, their bellies rumbling with power and noise, a few of the smaller ships, some of the many creatures that lived in the bay, some of which she knew and some she didn't, and others that were - there was! The song! 

 

 

There were Deep Ones outside Leviathan's headquarters. He knew what Deep Ones looked like well enough from his briefings and from their invasion of Freedom City some years earlier, and this is certainly what they were. Their predominant colour was a greyish-green, though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their necks were palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed. There were about a dozen of them, some wearing crowns of white-goldish metal, others completely nude, their bodies covered with barbaric tattoos of bold shapes and colors that depicted scenes of battle. Leviathan could hear their song, a booming bass that echoed through the water, even if they hadn't seen him yet.

 

They were all armed, each carrying tridents, and as Leviathan watched, one of them swam up to the opening of his stronghold and whacked it with his trident! It didn't seem to do any damage - but still singing, the creature swam back to join his fellows a moment before another swum up to take a turn!

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Suffice to say, this wasn't what he expected to find today.  Leviathan hunkered down as best he could, looking for cover on the dark, cold ocean floor, overcoming his initial alarm and desire to rush in for battle.  Deep Ones!  He had never encountered them in a situation like this before; the scientist in him was immediately fascinated, until more human worries caught up.  Surprise, curiosity, and fear swirled together and mixed with anger at the possibility of a second invasion of his hometown.  Could this be an early scouting party ahead of the main force?  If so, why were they here, precisely, messing with his lair?  Did they plan to conquer it as their outpost and base for their assault on the mainland?

 

No way in Hell I'm letting that happen!  Not that they can get inside anyway without heavy explosives.  ...Right?

 

He grabbed a handful of sand and squeezed it.  What should he do?  Attack?  Leviathan lacked experience with most of their abilities and tactics, but he still felt pretty good about his chances.  On the other hand, he was slowly learning the value of patience.  Since no one else was in danger at the moment, maybe he had better just watch for a little longer.  The strange turn-taking by which the Deep Ones were slowly banging on the docking hatch didn't seem like the most effective way to break in, and along with that singing, Leviathan wondered if he was actually watching some kind of ritual.  Was it smart to risk letting them conclude it, even to learn more?

 

I'll watch, just for another minute.  If anything bad seems to happen, I can rush in and scatter them.  These clowns don't know who they're dealing with!

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Sea Devil came into the scene slow and loud, her armor retracted to show what she was and her song of greeting a bass rumble clearly audible in the deep water. She took in the scene quickly and knew what she was seeing - the young females and males of this tribe, the hunters and warriors, performing an adulthood ritual. She'd been through one of those herself, years upon years earlier, when she'd gained some of the tattoos visible on her green-white limbs where they bulged out of her metallic shell. "Greetings, warriors!" she called as she landed among them, careful to land so that none of them saw her back. "<I am Water-Bearer-in-Dagon's-Mouth. Of what tribe are you?>" 

 

"<We are Hydra's-Coils-In-Sun,>" croaked one of the females in reply, whose scaly integument showed more than a little Dark Brother in her. "<And you?>

 

"<I was of the Stony Island Tribe>," Aquaria replied, her eyes upcast to show tragedy. "<But they are->

 

"<You lie!>" croaked another of the females, hopping her way out of the circle to glare at Aquaria. This one looked far less like a Dark Brother - indeed, her skin was whiter than the grey-green of the others, and her tattoos a deeper shade of blue. Aquaria stared at the female in shock, doing hasty math as she considered age and race and-the younger female was still speaking. "<The Stony Island Tribe is dead, killed by Surfacers and Atlanteans. You come here in their metal garb, and tell us LIES!>" She hissed and raised her trident - automatically Aquaria lit hers in response. 

 

"<No!>" she bellowed, "<Listen!>

 

 

From Leviathan's perspective, the interaction was considerably more prosiac - albeit considerably more alien. The arrival of the Deep One in power armor interrupted whatever ritual was taking place by the entrance to his lair, and newcomer and tribe immediately began bellowing at each other in noises somewhere between a whale's song and a frog's croaking. The interaction didn't look entirely friendly - especially once one of the group hefted one of those long, wrought-iron looking tridents, and shook it threateningly at Sea Devil - who responded by igniting a trident of her own that gleamed an impossibly bright green in the dimness at the bottom of the bay. No blood had been spilled yet - but weapons were in hands! 

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Huh, Leviathan thought, unsure of how to feel about this.  Was the new development perhaps good for him?  Division among the enemy had to be, right?  He worried that if he showed himself, then he might become the uniting force that brought these creatures back together, but to just sit back and watch an outnumbered outcast get swarmed seemed awfully cold...

 

To hell with it; it's not like they can take me, anyway.  Enough waiting.

 

He swam ahead, gathered a deep rush of water through his gills, and bellowed loudly to get their attention.  "RRRRRROOOOOOAAARR!  Invaders!  What are you doing in my house?!"

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The warriors of Hydra's-Coils-In-Sun hadn't come this far by challenging monsters in their territory. As Leviathan approached, he heard the Deep Ones croaking at each other something that sounded like an aquatic mangling of his super-name, then they leaped off the seabed like startled underwater rabbits before swimming away. They knew their flight well, and swam low enough that the rapid movements of their powerful arms and legs stirred up a thick cloud of silt that temporarily blocked the view of their escape. Sea Devil thought she could track them down if she listened hard enough, but for the moment they were gone. The fools! Staying here would bring them only death.

 

She floated until her eyes were at the level of Leviathan's, aware that the giant male had spoken in Surfacer and not wanting to show him her her upper back in the middle of a serious crisis. "You speak English!" she croaked at him, her underwater English a strange sort of booming bass that sounded like someone making the sounds of English phonetically. Up close she was clearly a Deep One like the others, albeit perhaps smoother rather than scalier - her gills bulged wide as she said, "Please, you have to help me find them. Atlanteans come to the city this way. If they find out about that tribe, they'll hunt them down!" It was not entirely the story that one usually heard about Deep One-Atlantean relations. She didn't know his species, but that was for a later conversation. Instead she stared at him with gold-black eyes, her black, opalescent armor covering her torso and upper limbs. 

 

"

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At first, Sea Devil might be concerned to see that Leviathan looked smug when his aggression sent the Deep Ones fleeing.  Fortunately, even before she asked for help, this satisfaction turned to a thoughtful frown.  Earlier this year, he wouldn't have second-guessed this easy victory; the sight of enemies running in terror from his awesome might would've put him in high spirits all week.  Now, however, he had begun to wonder if inspiring fear was such a good thing.  It felt different once he'd been on the other side--once he was the helpless one.

 

Sea Devil's plea complicated the issue even further.  Leviathan wasn't entirely sure that Atlantean intervention was a bad thing, not even if he entertained sympathy for the Deep Ones.  Fine, they were probably people of a sort and shouldn't be abused, but didn't everyone know that in this ancient war, the citizens of Atlantis were the heroes?

 

He squinted at Sea Devil hesitantly.  "...If we do...what then?  What do you intend to do with these Deep Ones?  Turn them over to the Freedom League?"  He seemed to be waiting for her to suggest that the intruders just be set free, and judging by his tone, Leviathan wasn't likely to support this.

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Oh, thought Aquaria, he _is_ a Surfacer. An Atlantean lackey would have been shouting in Atlantean or Lemurian, after all. She exhaled water, her throat sacs bulging, considering her options. She thought about what was important to Surfacers and what wasn't, and told Leviathan a truth that would matter to someone born of Surfacer stock. "I'll sing them a way north, up past the great river to the villages there. There's enough fish for them to live in that water. But if that tribe is found by Atlanteans, they'll use whatever force they like to drive them down into the abyssal plains, away from Atlantean territory. No one will stop them. No one cares if Deep Ones die," she croaked matter-of-factly. 

 

"Down in the plains there's much less food, which means the tribe will begin to starve. The old ones will die fighting creatures to bring more food to the tribe and the spawn will be...reabsorbed." Her voice was still that odd, inhuman croak, but in that booming bass like a bullfrog's bellow Leviathan could pick out the ring of truth - and experience, as she picked her way from word to word through memories she knew only too well. "The survivors will join one of the militant cults on the plains, because they're organized and have food, and die attacking an Atlantean city or a Surfacer ship. I can't let that happen to them," she said simply. "I can't let that happen to them, because no one else will care if they die - and because one of them is my girl-child." She exhaled again, her giant eyes wide as she looked levelly at Leviathan, her gaze as frank as a toad's. "My name is Aquaria. Surfacers call me Sea Devil. If you are going to try and stop me, you should tell me now." 

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Wow, that was depressing.  Leviathan's expression stated it plainly, and mixed among his shock were hints of the disgust he felt toward himself.

 

I almost did it again, he lamented.  Everyone "knows" Deep Ones are all bad, so why would my stupid self consider otherwise?  Better just hurt and scare them without thinking about it, right?  Because isn't that the kind of hero I am?

 

For all his size, he seemed weirdly small as he hung his head and clutched his hands together.  "...No, I...I'll help.  If you're sure they aren't here to hurt anyone, then I'll help."

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"Thank you!" croaked Aquaria, her mouth briefly opening in a smile that was impossibly wide for a creature whose head was as wide as hers. Maybe he is as pretty as he looks after all, she thought, before firmly pushing such thoughts out of her head to concentrate on the mission. She thought for a moment, remembering a Surfacer word that was a translation of another Surfacer word that she had learned meant the same thing as warriors showing their bravery without a fight. "This way they wil also not count coup on your house. Now they know you're very tough, so that will help. Weak males are..." She croaked and shook her head, or rather swiveled her upper torso back and forth. "Not good. We should pretend that you are my mmmate, and that we are there to guide them to a safer place." She croaked again, the pale white flesh of her belly darkening slightly, and kicked her long, long amphibian legs to stay in motion around Leviathan. "You may have to wrestle a few, or bite them with your teeth, but that will just show you are tough. Let's go!" She led the way, kicking with her powerful legs. 

 

 

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Leviathan was so dumbfounded by Sea Devil's plan that he could only follow and stare at her, almost certain to overlook his surroundings.  Fortunately, he was pretty familiar with the immediate area around his lair, so he could perhaps subconsciously gravitate toward the most likely hiding spots.

 

And I thought faking a cover story with Bonfire was hard.  How do Deep One couples behave?  Am I supposed to flirt with her?  What do Deep Ones consider to be compliments?  And didn't she say that her daughter was among the group?  That's going to be a fun conversation.  I mean, if none of them speak English, then maybe Aquaria can do all the talking...but still.  This is weird.  Just so, so weird.

 

Yet at the same time, his inner scientist was again intrigued, especially since Sea Devil was closer to his supposed reptilian identity than he actually was.  Perhaps he could take note of her behavior and incorporate some of it into his cover. 

 

Besides, unless Leviathan had been tricked, this did sound like a good deed--even if Bonfire laughed himself sick over it when they got together later to add the story to their blog. 

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It was Leviathan who (after some close looking) spotted the first 'track', sets of three-fingered footprints clearly visible in the muck at the bottom of the bay, but it was Sea Devil who knew how to follow them (Deep Ones often moved by 'leaping' underwater rather than swimming, as a way to both save energy and confuse scent trails of creatures following them) - towards the sound of distant thrumming and croaking. Sea Devil and Leviathan found the Deep Ones down in the deepest parts of Great Bay, perhaps a mile or so from Leviathan's lair, near a WWII shipwreck that Leviathan had passed a few times (and that Tristan Delacroix knew was a Liberty Ship that had been torpedoed in 1944 and then allowed to turn into a natural reef in the years that followed. The Deep Ones had colonized the vessel and the space around it, carving yellow eldritch signs on the still-standing walls of the ship, mounting aquatic skulls to the vessel's prow, and otherwise claiming it as their own. 

 

More of the tribe was here; the young hunters Leviathan had chased off and more, some that looked particularly scaly and aged, some that looked like small, toothy versions of Aquaria - and something organic that seemed to be inside the wreck. They were swimming around each other and croaking, an alien booming underwater bass that was like no sound one could hear on the surface through air. Briefly not seen by the group, Sea Devil turned to Leviathan and asked, "What do you-oh!" She made a noise, her throat sacs bulging, and removed part of her suit, a torque-like contraption that hung around the neck. "You don't speak Lemurian!" It was easy to forget that such a rugged aquatic being was not of aquatic stock. "Here, I stopped using the translator because it told me lies, but that was only in space. It should work for you. Try it!" she encouraged warmly. If a cold-blooded fish-frog could be warm. 

 

The translator didn't quite work like they did on Star Trek - instead after a slight but noticeable delay, Leviathan heard from the collar what seemed to be a translation of the eldritch chant out front. 

 

"-Give thanks to Dagon, for He is good
He created the world with wisdom
He leads His people throughout history
He feeds and comforts His children                    
 
Give thanks to Hydra, Mother of Monsters
She loves us with a mouth of teeth                             
As we receive from Her, let us also give to Her
Hearts open to those who hunger and thirst-
"       

 

"You can understand now? Good!" Aquaria croaked. "Are you ready? You just have to be tough, and wrestle any that try and wrestle you. And don't fertilize anyone's eggs!" she added with a laugh. Surfacers loved jokes about mating, they talked about it on their television shows all the time. 

            

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This...did not exactly put Leviathan at ease.  He also wasn't sure how he felt about the Deep Ones colonizing the old ship, either.  What effect they might have on the often-fragile reefs, he couldn't say--although they'd be hard-pressed to do more harm than his own species--but as a lifelong fan of heroes and aware of how their early culture was tied to the World War, part of him was decidedly uncomfortable.  For a monster who supposedly didn't believe in omens, this seemed like an ominous one. 

 

They probably don't know.  It's not sacred to them, and besides, it's not like they took up residence in Freedom Hall.  It's just an old ship.

 

Now, the song, he had a harder time dismissing.  Leviathan wasn't a scholar of major religions, let alone obscure cults, but Dagon and Hydra had some bad reputations among surfacers.  Doubts began to whisper louder in the back of his mind; what if Aquaria was misguided and didn't really understand the dangers that this tribe actually posed to Freedom City?  Could she herself be a threat, not out of malice, but innate nature? 

 

If we convince them to move on, then it shouldn't matter.  ...Unless I'm just pawning this problem off on someone else further down the line...

 

Sea Devil's laugh shook him from his worries, and after he replayed the joke back to himself, he had to chuckle too, even if it was a bit awkward and nervous.  "I will...try to resist."  He almost asked what they would do if these weapon-wielding warriors weren't content to just "wrestle," but if Leviathan had anything in abundance, it was confidence in his own resilience.  Just what were a few tridents supposed to do against his scales and rapid healing? 

 

"But yes, I am ready.  Will we try to talk to them peacefully first?  If that was what you were doing earlier, then I don't think it worked."

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"Just follow my lead," Aquaria croaked reassuringly. She wasn't quite as brave as she was acting - but she knew Leviathan had already gone beyond his beliefs to help her, and making him too ready for a fight wouldn't solve anything. She swam quickly towards the tribe, then planted her feet as they caught sound and smell of her and Leviathan making their approach. "Behold Water-Bearer!" She bellowed with an impressive volume, her throat bulging outward as she spread her arms wide. "Do Hydra's-Coils-In-Shadow hide from a lone female and her mate? Who is your chief?" she demanded. "Who leads this tribe in its flight?" By now the singers and dancers had stopped, floating or crouching on the bay's bottom, glaring suspiciously at Leviathan and Sea Devil. The latter seemed to be glancing in particular at one of the Deep One warriors, one whose coloration looked similar to Aquaria's - but among dozens of fish-frog forms in green and gold, all of them dappled with tattoos and other forms of art, it was hard to tell one from another. 

 

A scarred Deep One approached them, one big eye sightless, its body a striking shade of red and blue. Its croaking voice was translated by Leviathan's collar in a tone that made it rasp with age - and power. "I am Sees-in-Darkness - I sing for the people. Your mate is not a Deep One, Water-Bearer.

 

"No," conceded Aquaria, "but he is a...potent companion in many ways - and it is no affair of chiefs-not-kin with whom I mingle," she croaked firmly, as if their chieftan needed reminding. "Shall we sing with you?" she inquired, gesturing to the tribe. 

 

"You may feast of our kills, and sing our songs - but we will crack your bones and void upon them if you betray us," said Sees-in-Darkness in a voice that spoke of reciting a long memorized phrase, stepping aside to follow Sea Devil and Leviathan back towards the tribe. "Let us greet them, brothers and sisters - we are not alone in these waters, and the one we thought is our enemy may be our friend." Some of the group resumed their singing, a constant _throb_ like great bullfrogs croaking that echoed through the water in an alien tone, others swam down to approach Aquaria and Leviathan. 

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Charming, Leviathan thought dryly--although he had to admit that the meeting could be off to a worse start.  On edge though everyone might be, for the moment Sea Devil managed an uneasy truce, and that counted for a lot.  Leviathan raised one hand in an uncertain greeting and hoped that he could skip the offered food.  Somehow he doubted that the menu would include any of his usual favorites.

 

"We do not start trouble," he reassured--and warned--Sees-in-Darkness.  "We are only here to...sing."

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That Leviathan spoke with mechanical aid needed some explanation too - but Aquaria was swift to provide that. "I gave him the power of our speech with my armor from the Sea of Stars," she croaked proudly. "It gives me many powers." Getting the attention of the other Deep Ones on her power armor gave Leviathan a little more space to look around, and listen around, there in the depths of Great Bay. There was a lot to see - sort of. The colors down here were oddly muted for a people who seemed to love decoration so much, but even in greyscale Leviathan could see the shapes and patterns across the bodies of most of the Deep Ones - and the ship they'd made their nest. Everywhere was the sound of singing and the beat of drums, a low sonic thrum that his translator was only partially managing. It wasn't overwhelming - but then the Deep Ones were mostly calm.

 

The space armor story involved some sort of trip into deep space and recruitment into some sort of Star Knight Corps - it was hard to follow but Aquaria told it with great, croaking enthusiasm as she and Leviathan walked past young Deep Ones like baby sharks with limbs wrestling with small fish and crabs they were tearing apart, past craftsbeings and others - all the social markings of a mobile hunter-gatherer tribe. Everyone was armed, either with dark daggers bladed like obsidian, those same sharp tridents, or simply with impressive claws and teeth. Mostly hunters, then. There was no sign of anyone eating plant matter, anywhere. 

 

"Mate, eh?" Only a few of the Deep Ones were still showing much interest in them now that they had the chief's approval and Aquaria's story had finished. The leader of the ones that were (a small group of younger males and females that were following them around and full of questions) had a voice in Leviathan's ear that sounded like a girl in her late teens. Of all the Deep Ones there, her white belly and grey-green skin seemed to match Aquaria's the most - as did the blue tattoos that stood out starkly on her skin. That, at least, was easy enough to see - like the aquatic beings they were, none of the Deep Ones besides Aquaria were bothering with a stitch of clothing. "Then where are your spawn?

 

Aquaria was, quite rarely as anyone could tell you, briefly at a loss for words. She stepped back protectively against Leviathan's front torso, falling into 'character' the way she would if he really was her mate. "...some are dead. Some swim the seas. I am not a Surfacer spy, girl. What is your name?" With a deliberate effort, she stepped away from Leviathan. After all, it wasn't like he was going to wrap his arms around her and bellow at the one who had surprised her. 

 

"Naia," croaked the younger female after a moment's pause. "So you are our friend. You can see we have little. Why did you come here, then? What do you sing?" Her chief was watching, as were others of the tribe. 

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Wait, what?  Star Knight?  Whaaaaat?  Leviathan looked back to Sea Devil as she told her story and took on a whole new image in his mind.  He tried to keep track of her tale as best he could, and in the process was distracted from some of what he saw around him--but certainly not all.  This intimate look at the Deep One tribe tilted his opinion of them yet again until he wasn't sure what to think.  Their feeding habits were a little uncomfortable (he had seen his share of aquatic killing before, even in these same waters, but it didn't feel quite the same coming from talking, thinking people, whatever animalistic characteristics they might have), but aside from Leviathan's squeamish stomach, he had a harder and harder time distrusting his hosts, let alone hating them. 

 

...Especially once he saw Naia, and Sea Devil's reaction to her.  Leviathan was pretty sure he could make the right connection here.  In sympathy rather than attraction, he did in fact reach out for Aquaria, although his hand dropped again when she moved away.  When did she have to give her daughter up? he wondered.  She must have been very young, to not recognize her mother...  He frowned, took a moment to hear and process the translation of his ally's other children, and frowned even deeper.  After having lost so much already, Leviathan could see why she was so desperate to save this one.

 

And we'll do it.  If the Atlanteans come, then I'll stop them!  ...But I'm sure they'll all just be people too, not bloodthirsty savages.  I don't think I'll find any easy answers here.  Just a lot of old suffering that keeps rippling into each new generation.

 

He turned his big, pale eyes up from the sand and rocks to Naia.  "We come because it is not safe.  You have a home here, but the Surfacers are close and will find you.  Atlanteans as well.  We know a better place, where you can be free of both."

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That bit of news led to quite an uproar among the Deep Ones - not just grunts and croaks and hisses that came too fast for his translator, but rhythmic bobbing and throat-bulging that seemed almost ritualistic. The cries that followed came from a crowd too alien to pick out details from, seeming to come up like voices in a chorus.

 

"We have fought foes before! The Dark Brothers who abandoned us! The Atlanteans who warred on us! Should we let them drive us from our hunting grounds without a fight?

 

"Yes!" Aquaria bellowed with great force. "Yes! You should move on without a fight! I have seen your tribe, brothers and sisters." She waved her three-fingered hand around the encampment, ship and all. "You are fierce and strong, but you know your weakness. Your warriors fled from Leviathan because they knew that the foes here are too great to face. If you stay here, you will die - as your blood is spilled, or else when you flee into the darkness Below and are consumed by it.
 

There came another call, this one from a female with a squirming child crawling around on her back as she spoke, "If we are consumed by the Darkness, so be it! Should we turn away from the Dark Mother and Dark Father because we fear pain and death?" Despite the shouters, the mood of the tribe seemed to be wavering - though of course it wasn't easy to tell with creatures so alien. Naia seemed to be less demonstrative than her peers, either the ones that were snapping their teeth in defiance or ducking away in submission, folding her arms and watching the two of them closely. 

 

 

 

 

"

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Leviathan wasn't surprised; he thought there might be some resistance.  If the tribe couldn't be persuaded, could he drive them out himself without causing too much harm?  Should he?

 

"Listen to her," he gestured to Sea Devil.  "Even if you fend off the first search parties that find you, that will only convince more to come.  I wish it was not true, but it is.  And yes, you are brave, but that does not mean you should be foolish.  You do not only risk your lives here; with so few of your people left in this age, you risk your culture as well.  Will you throw that away to make your stand?  Who will sing of Dagon and Hydra if all Deep Ones behave as you do?  Let us help you, and choose to live!"

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 Leviathan's words stirred up a great to-and-fro among the Deep Ones. The words came faster, or in too alien ways, for Leviathan's translator to catch them at first. This might have been the equivalent of a learned debate, or soccer fans arguing over whose team was best. But it was an argument of snapping teeth and bulging throat sacs, of deep bass underwater bellows and sustained mass hissing like the sound of large, angry snakes having a battle royale. But no blows were struck and no one actually bit anyone else, even if he did distinctly see at least one pair break off into what looked like a wrestling match in the mud and muck at the bottom of the bay. No one seemed to have hostile intentions towards the visitors, though a few did make aggressive threat displays their way. 


Aquaria certainly didn't look put out by what was happening - standing so close to Leviathan, he could make out her bellowing into the din - "Will you count coup forever? Or fight a true fight? There is no darkness if none can hear its song! Do not let the light Above blind your ears!" She turned occasionally and gave Leviathan a big, toothy smile and a double-thumbs up that looked all-too-human on her froggy Deep One face. 

 

Suddenly, a great cry broke over the sound of the debate - and Naia stepped out into the open area between the body of the tribe and Leviathan. "Hear me, brothers and sisters! Hear me, Sees-in-Darkness! I call the Challenge of the Dark Mother and Father against the...survivor and her mate! The blood will tell - and feed the gods Below, if they speak the truth!" Soon "The Challenge! The Challenge!" was coming from the throats of the tribe. It didn't seem like they got a lot of entertainment. 

 

Aquaria croaked in English - "She has a _mate_? - I mean, that's good," she added, again in translated Lemurian, "we fight to first blood, and you look like you can make her mate spill blood..." Aquaria suddenly climbed up on Leviathan, quick as a scuttling gecko, and peered from a perch on his shoulders. "Where _is_ her mate?"  

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Being used as a roost came as a surprise to Leviathan, but this wasn't the first, or even the second, time that a female hero sat on his shoulders for transport, although he suspected it might be awkward if they had to fight in such a position. 

 

No big deal; I've got this.  If anything, I just have to be careful not to really hurt them, especially if Naia is Sea Devil's daughter.  Not that she seems too concerned about beating down her child, but hey, it's for a good cause. 

 

"I will try not to injure either of you too badly...so that you can still swim without help to your new homes when we win!" he boasted.  Despite this confidence, he turned his head and whispered to Aquaria from the corner of his mouth, "...Are there any other rules I should know about?"  It would be a shame to lose because of ignorance.

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"Nothing in the male parts," Aquaria hissed at him. "just as I cannot strike her in the cloaca. And only spill blood." She'd seen some Surfacer combats that had all sorts of elaborate rituals of who could hit who where, and how sacred circles must be kept - the latter made sense for elaborate rituals she supposed but what was elaborate about fighting. With his trident, a croaking-chanting Sees-in-Darkness sketched a golden sign in the middle of the muck as the tribe chanted and bellowed. Naia had disappeared, evidently to find her mate, so Aquaria took the opportunity to lead Leviathan out onto the field and show him where they stood. "You beneath one arm, I beneath the other, and the two in the middle..." The tribe gave a particularly vigorous cry - Naia and her partner had returned. 

 

Aquaria felt, as her daughter arrived, a stab of pride at how well her line must be propagating itself. Her mate was clearly the Keeper of this tribe's eggs from where he'd been waiting - and he had the muscle and magical power to back it up. His tattoos, engraved with holy marks she knew and some she didn't were already glowing in the reflected light of the golden sign. His power was great and powerful muscles bulged beneath a towering frame that if it wasn't as big as Leviathan was certainly very big - he had a good two feet of height and a hundred pounds on Aquaria or Naia, just as a male should with a female. He had a rugged jaw and proudly erect crest, manly sharp teeth, and beautiful black, bulging eyes. Aquaria glanced briefly at Leviathan and thought a little wistfully, It seems this is a day for beautiful things that I cannot have. Naia stood at his side but not as his feet, a good sign for their relationship, and upon closer inspection the tridents they bore seemed to match. 

 

As Leviathan watched, the big Deep One bellowed and aimed his trident at Leviathan's face. "Fool! I, Ikatare, will eat your guts and void them on your bones! In the sacred names!" Naia echoed his cry - and the battle began!  

 

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"That sounds like it should be against the rules..." Leviathan mumbled dryly, in part to hide his jealousy. 

 

Alright, that's one handsome fish-man.  Even non-humans have better bone structure than I do; how's that fair?  But whatever.  Ikatare may be tough, but he's not Leviathan tough, and it's time I showed everyone that!

 

"Come on, then!  The only meal you'll have today is when I feed you your own trident!"

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Naia moved, fast and agile in the water, after her mother. Using her trident to keep her distance from Sea Devil's armored grip, she thrust at Aquaria, the trident's sharp prongs glancing off Aquaria's Spectrum Knight armor. She growled and hissed, stamping her feet against the muck as they fought, sending up a cloud of silt that partially obscured them from Leviathan's view. He could hear them, though, their moving bodies partially illuminated by the green glow that came from the joints of Aquaria's armor.

 

"Run-tun-tun! You hide behind your space armor, female?

"Brek-ek-ek-ek-coax-coax! I fight with every advantage!" Aquaria croaked in defiant return, striking the ground with her lower limbs too. "So that all might survive!

 

Leviathan had his own problems to deal with, though - Ikatare was sketching in the water with his trident, marking a golden sign that sizzled with arcane power, the water around it literally boiling. "Great Carcosa! Give us the Eye That Burns!" Sure enough an eruption of brilliant yellow light erupted from his trident and struck Leviathan in the mid-section, burning hot enough that he felt even his super-tough flesh sizzle - but only sizzle.  

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