Words in italics indicate character thoughts.
Alright, I've been away from the prompt challenge for a while due to real life affairs, but I'm back for now and hopefully here to stay for the remainder of 2019. Man, I seriously missed writing for these prompts.
Without further ado, the theme for the month of June 2019 is: "Write a story where a character learns a lesson about the facts of life. This can be played for seriousness or for laughs."
A/N: Prologue chapter is set before the events of LBT IX: Journey to Big Water.
Chapter 1: Vivid and Vibrant Purple
Big Water Mo ho-o-ome!
…but, Mo not like Big Water…
If one could look into the colorful swimmer's head, his thought process appeared to be rather outlandish… in fact, it seemed nonsensically paradoxical.
How could such an opinion possibly come to be? It made no apparent sense. From the very moment that Mo had been born, aquamarine blue already surrounded his eyes. Water was as much of a part of him as his water foot. It was practically everywhere, washing over his body as he swam. As such, how could an individual who was attuned to such a lifestyle ever since young choose not to accept it, especially when they were constantly surrounded by water?
The very thought lies madness!
And yet, that was truly what Mo felt. Unlike what most would think, he had never felt at home in the Big Water…
"Hey, lookie here! If it isn't Mo, my favorite quirky swimmer!"
Mo froze, his body going stiff as he heard the smarmy voice that rang out from the distance. He then squinted his eyes, using his species' innate gift of excellent vision to discern the source.
Although a quick scan through his eyes came up with zilch, Mo felt the length of his body tensing up, the swimmer already preparing for the inevitable. After all, part of the reason as to why he felt this way about his so-called home was because of the one who had spoken from afar.
He spun his tail about, rapidly moving his body in the direction of food and hoping to lose his pursuers. With any luck, he would be able to catch some hapless fish in his jaws and eat in peace.
"Hmph!" A triumphant cackle which permeated through the water put a quick end to that fleeting thought. "Would you look at that, Kelp? I think he's trying to run away!"
Any such luck had eluded him, it would seem. The voice from earlier made a curt observation to his partner-in-crime, and more alarmingly for Mo, was much louder in amplitude than his initial words from earlier, signaling to the distressed Mo that they were closing in on him.
Before he even knew it, Mo saw two shadows fall across his face, telling him without a doubt that the duo had descended upon him.
There they were. Orca and Kelp. The two swimmers who Mo definitely did not want to see right now.
The swimmers in question were similar in their builds and appearances to Mo, the only major difference being their significantly duller colors as compared to his vibrant indigo body and sandy yellow underbelly.
But unfortunately, that was where the similarities ended. They couldn't be more different from him.
"Going somewhere, Mo?" Orca challenged when he heard no response coming from Mo, his brow furrowed as he snorted. "Judging by your apprehensive face, I take it that there's no chance for us to have a friendly chat?"
Mo initially looked away and stilled upon discerning Orca's voice and the unpleasant message that had been conveyed by the male's remark, but he eventually willed himself to whirl around with an exaggerated U-turn, a jovial smile instantly turning his frown upside-down before anyone was able to catch sight of his somber mood. "Well, look like you caught Mo out," he warbled to the two in a careful tone before rapidly waving his fins at them. "So hello there, friends!"
"Hush now." Orca glowered at Mo with a serious expression, signaling for him to cut the gesture. "We are not friends," the swimmer made sure to correct Mo, hitting his bottom fins against each other to further emphasize his point. "The two of us are just kin mates… and reluctant ones at that! Acquaintances, Mo," he stressed again. "Get that fact drilled into your head."
"But that not mean we cannot be friends… Orca still can be friends with Mo!" he cheekily retorted, now feeling calmer as he relentlessly teased Orca. Mo prudently kept the distress he felt out of his eyes, nodding his head slightly to acknowledge the swimmer drifting by Orca's side. "And what brings you here too-o-o?"
"We've been looking for you." The female voice chided, her snide tone of voice allowing Mo to tell even if he hadn't had any visual cues that the curt remark had come from Kelp, who had remained silent up until now.
Mo slowly alternated his tail fin left and right, edging away from the troublesome duo. "Well, you manage find Mo," he said, putting on a tough front as his eyes darted between the two swimmers. "So what you both want from Mo-o-o-o?"
Orca chortled at Mo's embellished enunciation of his name, the swimmer flashing his teeth in amusement. "Don't act all innocuous. That tactic won't work on me—"
"—or me!" Kelp added as she interrupted her partner, much to the male's annoyance. "Acting like you don't know why we're here when you've constantly kept yourself secluded from the rest of us…" she continued. "We wouldn't be pestering you so much if you didn't always seem so keen to dodge our interactions."
Seeing Mo blink at her in befuddlement, Kelp snorted and looked at the swimmer with an expression which conveyed pure disappointment. "You always keep to yourself, you know? I mean, you barely contribute to the overall well-being of our group when we should be a cohesive water kin."
Mo frowned very slightly. It was no mere coincidence, of course. And yet, Orca and Kelp seemed to enjoy bringing this observation up to his attention over and over again. It was as if they wanted to force some change in his behavior by continually embarrassing him, treating his refusal to be around the other swimmers as some sort of scornful act, a deliberate move of defiance on his part.
Quite the over-exaggeration, Mo had to say.
"Ahhhh… Mo not able click well with you both," he tried to shrug it off, downplaying the issue once more by giving Orca and Kelp the same excuse that he'd always given them. "Need more time before we can be friends!"
"Oh, Mo…" Kelp giggled, rubbing her underbelly with her bottom fins in bemusement. "You misunderstand. Orca and I didn't swim all the way here just to pester you."
…for once, Mo added in his mind, fighting to keep the mental scowl off his face.
"We were actually tasked to find you," Orca followed, his amber eyes flashing as they shifted from Kelp to Mo. "Our water kin has called for a meeting, and you, my friend—" he practically sneered the word out, "—are going to be the centerpiece of it!"
"What this about?" Mo hedged, a sense of apprehension slowly swirling within him. "Why water kin want summon Mo?"
Unable to contain her excitement, Kelp held her fin out to stop Orca before he could answer. Her violet eyes twinkling, she spun about in a circle before barking her response.
"It's the Old One! Tenor is calling a meeting!"
As the reverberation of Kelp's declaration died down and her words registered in Mo's mind, Mo found himself unable to keep up his nonchalant charade. His jaw dropped in a spectacular display before a look of concern found itself firmly etched on his face.
Tenor call water kin meeting? Ohhhh… Mo not like sound of this…
"Hey, Mo!" An irritated Orca snapped him out of his stupor before he could dwell on this new tidbit. "I know you're slow to absorb things, but you're not as slow as a star swimmer! So let's hurry and get a move on already!"
Before Mo could even react, Orca and Kelp had made their way to his left and right respectively, surrounding him on both sides. "What you doin-n-ng to Mo?" he asked, looking at them uneasily when he noted that they were both conveniently situated in a position where they would be able to intercept him if he attempted an escape.
"Um… isn't the answer as plain as the Big Water is vast? We're escorting you to the meeting, duh!" Kelp responded with a melodramatic sigh, rolling her eyes at Mo for good measure. The dismissive gesture wasn't needed to show her contempt, however. Her disdainful voice was enough to make it clear that she didn't like the task that she had been assigned in the slightest.
Sensing that he—and Orca and Kelp as well, it would seem—had no choice or say in the matter, Mo relented and didn't put up any additional verbal struggle, letting the two swimmers usher him back to the others.
As Mo swam back under escort and ploughed through the water, he eventually made visual with everyone else. The rest of the water kin was already waiting for them, forming a circle with a large reef structure situated behind them.
To an untrained eye, they were practically invisible as the similar colors between the swimmers and the vibrant coral allowed them to keep themselves hidden from any predators. Even in the unlikely event of any attack, any potential enemy would be quickly spotted as they could only close in from specific angles because the rocky formation blocked all other approaches from behind.
In other words, it was the perfect meeting spot.
Though Mo may have perked up at the sight of his water kin, he inwardly felt a sense of dread.
And the source of that foreboding was the swimmer who was directly in the middle of the clan. His most striking feature was the many maroon red spots and stripes that decorated his body and eyes. It was certainly a unique trait, as most of the other swimmers had an orange hue to these spots.
There was no mistaking him. This was Tenor, the Old One of his water kin.
Every swimmer who swam in the Big Water knew about the Old Ones. They were a collective group of wise Big Water swimmer elders, each one put in charge of their very own shoal of water kin.
However, the reverend title of 'Old One' wasn't actually a static one. It was ever-changing, and could actually be conferred onto any member. As their species operated on a junior-senior hierarchy, whenever a swimmer leader found themselves too incapacitated to carry out their duties or passed on to the Great Beyond, the mantle would be thrust upon the oldest of the next generation, who would then take charge of their group and continue the cycle anew.
For the water kin that Mo was in, the age range and proportions of the various swimmers were relatively on the young side compared to some others. The current oldest swimmer in their water kin was the one named Tenor who Kelp had spoken of with great fanfare earlier, a large and modest middle-aged swimmer. Their previous leader had unfortunately succumbed just the day before, so this was Tenor's first meeting as the newly promoted leader of their water kin.
This change of command gravely concerned him. Tenor was significantly younger than his predecessor and Mo was quite worried that the new leader might end up being easily swayed by the some of the others, especially as he needed to retain popular support among the swimmers lest he lose his flimsy power hold over the small group. He was, after all, a brand new leader who had just taken over.
In fact, it was quite likely the reason as to why Tenor had called for the meeting to begin with. Although Mo did not understand the full reasoning and complex politics behind such a move, even he was able to understand Tenor's intentions through his very own personal philosophy.
When you have more friends by your side, you will have more fu-u-u-un!
"Ah, it looks like Orca and Kelp have managed to locate Mo," Tenor said with a smile when he saw the last three swimmers closing up the circle. "We are finally at full strength, so I think that now is the time. Let us begin in earnest!" he declared to the joy of the waiting swimmers.
As the others cheered, Mo could feel the ominous sense of foreboding surge through him, a feeling that was only amplified as Tenor opened his speech.
"Greetings, fellow water kin!" Tenor started when the noise has subsided, his green eyes flitting around the various swimmers as he addressed the group. "It is with great honor that I now assume the roles and responsibilities that have been bestowed upon me as the new Old One."
There was another round of excited claps and whistles as Tenor spoke, forcing the new leader to clamp his mouth shut until his hyperactive audience calmed themselves down.
His gaze then darkened as his eyes fell on a certain swimmer in particular. "Let us get down to business. I have convened this meeting because of something that has been brought to my attention. It is a topic that I think we are all very well aware of…"
Mo shuddered, hiding his eyes behind his fins as he felt all eyes turn on him even before Tenor had completed his sentence. Though he already had a feeling that it was coming, having it actually play out first-hand was still a frightening experience that no amount of internal preparation can ready an individual for.
Seeing that the swimmers under his charge were a few water feet ahead of him, Tenor decided to jump ahead and skip directly to the point. "As a water kin, we need synergy to coexist with one another. Everyone must band together as a collective team of swimmers in order to succeed. That is why I hold the opinion that excluding a swimmer is bad form, so I would like to know why I've seen the whole lot of you do exactly that to Mo for many seasons prior."
Mo peeked out when he heard Tenor's words. Was he calling out those like Orca and Kelp? Ostensible as it was, the direction of the talk at hand was certainly not what he had in mind.
"Reasons? I can give you a whole lot of reasons, Old One!"
Mo suppressed a groan as Orca jerked towards Tenor, the youthful swimmer looking ready to unleash a barrage of comments. Now this meeting was headed in the direction that he had anticipated.
"This fella right here," Orca gestured to Mo, "is going to make us the laughing stock of the entire Big Water."
"I am well aware of that, Orca." Tenor grimaced. "I have heard that complaint brought up to the previous Old One many times before. You must recall that I have been my predecessor's deputy for many Cold Times past before taking up the position of Old One myself."
Even the brash Orca knew when he had crossed a line. Mo had to admit that he had a wider grin than usual when he saw his rival bowing his head. "My apologies, Old One. I know that you never interacted much with Mo as compared to many of us, but please hear me out, Old One. He… he…" the swimmer trailed off at the end, twiddling his fins together as he struggled to find the most tactful words that he could use to describe Mo.
However, Kelp was much less concerned about being sensitive in front of Tenor.
"He talks like a complete dolt! That Mo… he must have been hit hard in the head by a rock face when he was born! I mean, seriously… he's a complete embarrassment! Who even talks like that? Is it any wonder that no other group wants to associate with our school of water kin so long as Mo remains in our ranks?"
Mo kept on smiling even as Kelp put him down, her negative words cutting him like a swimming sharptooth's jaw. His happy mood was all a front though, but he kept it up nevertheless.
After all, if he didn't smile, he would cry.
"Look, Orca," Kelp gestured to Mo, the female swimmer giggling to herself, "he has that dumb smile plastered on his face again. It's like whatever we say just goes right through him. I mean, it's Mo we're talking about here."
"Please keep your personal opinions out of this discussion." Tenor raised his fins to silence Kelp, an annoyed look flashing across his face. It probably only just hit him that he had to mediate this talk with the presence of such vocal speakers. "We are trying to be as objective as possible," he appended an explanation when he saw Kelp pouting at him.
Kelp only whined further, trying to insist on her point. "You can ask the others, Old One! They all share my opinion!" she professed.
Tenor pursed his lips. "Is that so?" he asked, looking at the crowd expectantly.
Mo adamantly kept silent as the others judged him with their eyes as Tenor looked on. Though many of them had indeed teased him for his distinct manner of speech before, the true instigators were primarily Orca and Kelp. The others usually had to be coerced by those two to join in with the bouts of bullying.
As a result, it was quite imperative that he didn't let those two get the upper hand by opening his mouth. If he spoke, it would be easy for Orca and Kelp to prove their point. And once that happened, the other swimmers would fearlessly join in and sully his good name.
Like Mo had expected, his strategy worked. Without Orca or Kelp to take command, none of the swimmers felt pressured to target Mo.
"Well, Kelp." Tenor finally broke the silence that had ensued. "No one here has so much as said a word in concurrence. Therefore, I feel inclined to believe that what you'd just said pertaining to Mo is not the case—"
"Hold it right there!"
Everyone turned to Orca, who had interrupted Tenor mid-speech. Mo could see that the swimmer was seething at the turn of events.
But then, his anger dissipated almost instantaneously. Mo perked up, glancing at Orca with morbid curiosity. Seeing him calm down instead of lashing out was definitely an unnerving display considering Orca's typical behavior.
Of course, it turned out that Orca had a very good reason for reacting this way.
His jaw curled into a sardonic smirk as he made direct eye contact with Mo. "Say, your bright colors are very noticeable, even when we dive deep down into the depths in areas where the Bright Circle can't reach…" he accused, his gleaming amber eyes flitting between Mo and the many swimmers who now had their undivided attention on him.
"Don't you see, Mo? Because of your striking colors, you are a prominent target who can easily be seen from afar. In other words, you could attract the swimming sharpteeth to us! You're a danger to us all, and you have been for many Cold Times! The safety of the water kin may be compromised because of you and your vivid tint of purple!"
W-Where that come from?!
Mo hadn't expected that at all. He had been prepared for Orca badmouthing him to Tenor, but this was the first time that Orca had ever brought this up. It must have been a last resort, something that he must have saved for a moment like this.
The swimmer suddenly felt very self-conscious. Mo was certainly aware that his body's shade of indigo was more pronounced and brighter in saturation as compared to most of his kind, but it had never once crossed his mind that his distinct color would make such a difference or have such a profound impact.
Bright purple color make Mo special! No other swimmer have color like Mo! So why does water kin think Mo being bright purple is bad thing? Should be good, not bad! Tenor also different color! Why water kin only target Mo!? It not fair!
"I… I never really noticed that before," Tenor confessed, unable to take his eyes off Mo.
As though that remark from their leader was a signal, everyone began chattering to one another, gossiping amongst themselves.
"It's true, isn't it!? Orca has a point!"
"Yeah! Mo's skin color is brighter than the rest of us! It genuinely might be bait for sharpteeth!"
"Is that why my parents used to tell me to stay away from Mo?"
"Like gee, I knew about his speaking issues, but this is probably ten times worse!"
Mo grit his teeth and gnashed them together in frustration as he heard the influx of disparaging remarks, but otherwise kept up his jolly smile. He didn't want to show his contemporaries just how much they were affecting him by their words. Sucked in by Orca's observation, the others had misconstrued Orca's words, taking the swimmer's exaggerated tales about Mo out of context and completely blowing the whole thing way out of proportion.
Thankfully, he was saved by the Old One himself.
"Silence!" Tenor raised his voice to drown out the chatter before it could get further out of hand, the new leader paddling towards the center of the group as he glared at his kin mates. "Cease your incessant squabbling at once, all of you!"
The effects of his words was instantaneous. The rage in their elder's voice was so succinct that it quelled the formerly rowdy crowd significantly.
As his eyes darted around, Tenor gave the members of his water kin a reprimanding gaze. It was a simple, nondescript look which conveyed volumes about the situation.
The message was clear — keep things under control, or else.
"I have heard enough from all of you," the larger swimmer said, shooting everyone a warning gaze once more. "And loath as I am to admit it, a couple of you have brought up some valid points regarding Mo," he conceded with a sigh. "I am still a firm believer that we must all be close-knit as one water kin. So as reluctant as it may be, if the majority of you truly feel that Mo is not a good fit for us, I may have to let him go from our water kin…"
Mo gaped, making an audible sound for the first time since the meeting had begun. He swallowed, feeling faint as the full ramifications of what Tenor had said hit him.
"Alright! Y'all heard it from Tenor! It is at this very moment that the new Old One has requested that we make a stand about Mo!" As Orca was preaching to the crowd about the momentous decision that his speech had all been leading up to, he covertly shot Mo a shrewd look which screamed of victory.
Kelp also took this chance to speak up, the female gleefully relishing the moment. "Orca's right! Listen up, all of you!" she said to the swimmers. "This is your chance to finally say what you feel about Mo after multiple Cold Times of having to tolerate his nonsense—"
"The Old One has requested for a vote," Orca lowered his voice to bring the topic back on track, the full weight of the situation crashing down as he took a tentative pause to give their kin mates time to ponder. He swam back and forth across the circle of swimmers, sadly shaking his head as he feigned an emotion of despair over having to pose the dreaded question.
"Will Mo be a part of our new water kin… or not?"
Mo held his breath, unwilling to face the crowd. Even without being prompted, he turned his back to the murmuring swimmers, nerves getting the better of him as he began to quiver.
The whole thing all seemed so surreal. Were his kin mates really debating his fate just behind him? Was this really happening?
"Ahem!" Mo heard Tenor clearing his throat, freezing in place as the elder continued to speak. "It would appear that the decision has been made."
Indeed, it was.
Mo felt his heart sinking like a sunken stone as he slowly turned around and swept his eyes across the various members of his water kin. He could do naught but merely blink his aqua eyes repeatedly when he saw every single swimmer in the vicinity raising a fin in agreement with Orca and Kelp.
It was a unanimous vote of no confidence.
Tenor clicked his tongue, despondently shaking his head as he said four simple words to Mo that summarized the situation perfectly.
"I'm so sorry."
Mo composed himself at Tenor's apology, struggling not to burst into tears. In one fell swoop, his name and reputation had been thoroughly besmirched. Even those who had a neutral opinion at first most likely had their impressions of him marred and tarnished when Orca brought the possible safety concern up to their attention.
Needless to say, Mo was absolutely crestfallen, unable to believe that he had deceived himself into somehow presuming that the outcome of the meeting would favor him. Tenor's amiability had caught him off guard at first, allowing Mo to maintain some faith that he would be vindicated when Orca and Kelp had tried to have their way right up to the very end.
He had been terribly wrong. And as a harsh consequence, Mo also learned an important lesson the hard way.
Regardless of how cozy the atmosphere around might be, it was important to never let one's guard down. The cruel stab of treachery and betrayal might strike at any time and come from anyone, no matter how unlikely the source of it might be.
Look like water kin not really friends with Mo after all. They all not want Mo be around them…
Mo very sad. Mo not able trust anybody now…
And indeed, there was nobody that one could trust more than yourself. After all, the truest and most loyal of friends were rare specimens indeed.
To have real friends who could see him for who he truly was and not as a bumbling failure of a swimmer…
…it was but a fleeting dream.
This fic was supposed to be a oneshot. It was, it really was. However, there were two reasons as to why that is no longer the case. One is the impending prompt response deadline, and the other is that after planning the story outline the estimated final word count appeared to hover around 20K+ words, which is way above my threshold for a oneshot. A combination of those factors eventually led to me splitting this into a multi-chapter fic.
Much like The Threehorn Way, I also feel that this chapter by itself doesn't fully nail the prompt the way that I originally intended. While it certainly works and fulfills the prompt requirement on its lonesome, I'll definitely recommend reading the entire piece when it is complete, and only then, compare it to the prompt as a whole.
Anyway, the main character here is Mo! Surprised? There hasn't been a lot of Mo-centric fics involving him or his water kin (The Perils of the Deep—though Mo wasn't the main character there—and a few chapters of The Swimmer Trials are all that come to mind in recent memory), so I decided to give our favorite optimistic swimmer a moment in the spotlight. Though speaking of optimistic, Mo might seem significantly less jovial than one might expect from his character, but just stick with me on this, okay?
Still, I do hope you enjoy this tale overall. This is my first attempt (second if you count the few sparse moments that the swimmer herd has been seen in Waves Crashing Upon the Sky thus far) in capturing complex herd dynamics and interactions with OC herd members. It's more of a Rhombus and Sovereign thing, really.
Next time, we'll see how a despondent Mo copes with his fellow swimmers kicking him out. :(