The Guardian's Tale

Prologue - The Approaching Darkness

The ocean stretched out before them, a seemingly endless underwater paradise of numerous shapes and colours, which could be seen reaching out into almost infinity in all directions, save for the strange, yet tantalising, world above the ocean. The sunlight from the world above played on the clear blue of the waters, but that world above the ocean's surface was an alien, and forbidden, territory to the fish that swam below. Some of the fish found the very idea of that strange world above - with all of its dangers and mysteries - an exciting temptation, a place that they longed to explore, as much because it was forbidden as because of its silent, enticing call to adventure. Gill, however, could not understand what its attraction was for his siblings, as they swam ever closer to the surface world, and the many and various dangers and wonders that awaited there. For Gill, the world below the ocean was enough, with its bright colours and steady rhythms, a world as beautiful as it was terrible, for the ocean itself was not without numerous dangers, and could be as harsh and unforgiving as the tentatively close, yet still distant, world above the waters.

Many of Gill's siblings had fatally found out about these dangers for themselves, for it was rare, indeed, that all of a fish's siblings would make it from hatchling to fully grown. But Gill was now a youth who had managed to reach adulthood, and therefore knew that, in the not too distant future, he would have to move away from his family home, to make a life for himself elsewhere in the ocean, perhaps find a mate and have young of his own, as was the way of the ocean. Yet, for the moment, he was content to act as nothing more than guard for his siblings, as they examined various rocks and outcroppings, interestingly shaped plants and corals, caves and crevasses, to see if any of these would make a suitable home for a moorish idol youth looking to find a place to set up home, a place where they could settle, raise a family, and live in peace, away from predators or the many other dangers hidden within the depths of the ocean.

That was the main reason why Gill had been asked to accompany them. He was a natural fighter, tougher than most of his kind, and with a level of guile and cunning unusual in one so young. It was generally agreed that, if there was a predator nearby, then Gill would have the best chance of all of them of being able to fight it, or of being able to trick the predator into leaving them alone.

Gill looked around at the beauty of the ocean. The water was as clear as morning, there were no signs of any predators anywhere close by, and so he wondered, briefly, if a guard was really necessary, as he watched his brothers and sisters examine nearby rocks. Of course, although it might look peaceful now, the best, the most effective predators were those that could hide easily, blend in with the ocean floor or an outcropping of rocks, so that they could not be observed until it was too late. So Gill knew that it was important that he was able to stay alert, keeping watch for a tiny flickering of movement, the glint of an eye or odd shape within the rocks, or some other small but vital clue, which would provide the necessary warning to the idols that now was the time to leave, before the predator had a chance to strike.

He watched from a distance as a few of his siblings made their way further towards the surface of the ocean. He could understand their curiosity about the strange world above, but hoped that they would quickly tire of their interest in that world. Fish belonged in the ocean, they were adapted for swimming, and besides, the ocean was huge, with enough to keep any fish amused throughout its life, without having to worry about a world where, it was as clear as sunlight, they did not belong.

Gill narrowed his eyes as he saw something which, he was sure, did not belong in the ocean, although he had no idea of what it was. It appeared to be some kind of thick black liquid, which seemed to be expanding rapidly from the world above the ocean. Gill called out to his siblings to swim down, to get away from the black ooze, to get as far away from the strange, dark liquid as they could. But they clearly could not hear him, so Gill swam up towards the surface of the ocean. There was a shadow blotting out the sunlight on a small area of the water, and, on closer inspection, Gill was sure that the shadow was caused by a boat. He had never seen a boat before, but his parents had told him about boats: these were human inventions, made out of metal and wood, and used in order to go out into the ocean to catch fish so that they could gut and eat them. Needless to say, Gill had always wanted to avoid boats after having heard this tale.

And never more so than now. But he could see his siblings, trapped within the black, thick liquid, trying to free themselves from its vicious grip. Gill could not leave them, so swam up onto the surface of the water. By that time, the boat was little more than a dark shape vanishing over the horizon, leaving a huge trail of black, thick liquid behind it. Gill felt the liquid cling to his fins, making swimming difficult. It was also starting to get inside his throat now, too, and beginning to make his breathing difficult and laboured. He did not pretend to understand what was happening, as he made his way, painfully slowly, towards the closest of his siblings.

It was too late. Whatever the black, evil liquid was, it had killed his sister, immobilised her, perhaps had been responsible for suffocating her to death. There was nothing he could do to help her now. Even worse, he did not know how to fight this strange liquid, for it was not a predator like any he had ever come across before. It did not seem to have any obvious weaknesses that Gill could exploit, did not seem to have any sort of intelligence or consciousness, did not seem to realise what it was doing. Gill could feel it getting inside his own body, and found that he was panicking and feeling helpless, as he looked around himself at where the black liquid was rapidly dispersing, killing everything that it touched, as indiscriminate as a thunderstorm, and much more deadly. He saw several of his siblings nearby, dead or dying, due to this evil black liquid. I'll be joining you soon, he thought to himself, for how can I hope to fight an enemy like this?

There was another boat, coming up fast, too fast for Gill to be able to swim away from it, since he was now covered in the strange, black liquid. He could only stare at the boat as it came closer, for he was no longer able to move much, due to being trapped by the evil ooze. The boat came to a stop very close to Gill, and a couple of humans looked down at the thick, black liquid. One of them shook his head sadly as he looked down at where this black liquid was expanding out into the ocean, "Blimey," he said to his companion, "that guy on the radio said it was bad, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad."

"All those dead fish," the other human said, "such a shame."

"Yeah, not sure that there's much we can do for them now, though," the first human replied.

"Wait a minute," the other human pointed at where Gill was still futilely trying to extract himself from the thick black liquid, "there's a live one there."

The boat inched closer to Gill, who tried to get as far away from it as possible. He might as well have tried swimming to the sun, for he was so covered in the black liquid now that he could barely move a fin, let alone swim away. One of the humans reached down and picked him up, not ungently, and examined him critically, while Gill suddenly found himself desperately gasping for air.

"We might still have a chance with this one, if we're careful," the human holding him said to his companion.

"It's going to take a lot of work," the other human replied, "but if we get it back to the lab we should have a chance."

With that, Gill was placed in a small, dark box, which at least was full of clear, clean water, and then was spirited away from his home in the ocean, heading towards an unknown fate.