Chapter 5: Imaginary Friends
Mo lingered at the bottom of the lake, the tranquility causing him to feel as one with the darkness and gloom that surrounded him. Down here, the light from the Bright Circle wasn't able to permeate through the clear pristine water, providing Mo an alcove for him to collect his thoughts.
A torrent of surging thoughts that plunged his mind into a frenzy.
He should never have gotten his hopes up with Littlefoot. Him doing so was just asking to be emotionally hurt. While the landwalker had managed to bond with him in a way which no one ever had prior, even when it was all going down Mo knew in his heart that it was too good to last. And now that he had a brief respite and a taste of true friendship before it was forcefully yanked from him, the sting of reality ended up being much harsher for him to accept.
Mo felt his body quivering and placed a fin to the rings around his eyes. Feeling the onset of upset tears coming out, the despondent swimmer squinted his eyelids tightly shut.
Even with his vision occluded, he didn't need to see his surroundings to know that he was crying. The pain Mo felt from within was enough to tell him that.
The salty tears that trickled out of Mo's eye rings ended up being readily absorbed, amalgamated and evenly mixed with the turquoise freshwater he was swimming in, thus quickly disappearing as fast as they formed as he continued to cry. His choked sobs and the violent wracks his body produced were the only hint that he was even crying in the first place.
Being assimilated into an entirely different environment like they'd never even existed — in a cruel twist of irony, what was happening to his tears turned out to be a better analogy than expected in summarizing his current futile situation.
Shaking his head with a sharp jerk to get his emotions under control, Mo bashed his long jaw against the silk bed in agitation. Of course all of this would be like being the joke of a cruel prank by the Old Ones. He couldn't even catch a break even when he was in a completely new environment, could he? Even here, in a verdant green land that was entirely foreign to him, he was doomed to never be accepted by its inhabitants.
…just as Orca had sworn to him.
Removing his fin from his eye, Mo brooded in the water, mulling over the recent events.
What was he going to do? All he had left going for him was Tenor's claim — that the new Old One would reinstate him back into the water kin after he successfully returned from his journey.
But now that he had the chance to view the agreement which they'd shook on with an objective lens, Mo couldn't help but feel as if Tenor had planned to get rid of him all along while recalling his adrenaline-fueled chase up the stream.
Lagda himself had alluded to the possibility while relentlessly pursuing him upstream.
"Hahahaha! Whoever ordered you here actively sent you here to perish! There is nothing at the top of this place except for a waterfall which nourishes this very river!"
While the swimming sharptooth could have said those words just to throw him off during the chase, Mo had seen with his own eyes that the source of the flowing water did indeed come from a waterfall. The water path which led into the lake was hidden and likely completely unknown to Tenor, and if it didn't exist would have been Mo's demise. He would have been trapped, and no one in the water kin would be the wiser to his fate.
Nobody except for the one who had told him to venture up here in the first place, that is.
Ohhhhh, Mo not liking where this going…
The more he thought about it, the more his heart sank. Tenor's request had seemed so innocent and at the time Mo even thought it benevolent, but after everything he had been through now it seemed shrewd and malicious in nature, a carefully calculated offer made to simultaneously appease the will of the water kin members who wanted Mo gone while also being able to get rid of the exiled swimmer in a way which would ensure he never returned.
A win-win situation for the newly succeeded Tenor.
The worst part of it all was that even on the off chance that Tenor was being truthful, it dawned on Mo that it wouldn't matter in the long run. The damage had already been done after Orca pulled his stunt in the previous meeting. Tenor might be able to persuade and maybe even resort to downright ordering the others in the water kin to tolerate his antics if he successfully returned to them, but so long as Orca and Kelp were there, they would never let up. In the long run, the duo's influence over his tattered reputation probably even outweighed the elder's.
Who was he fooling? The members of the water kin had already formed their opinions, and successfully outmaneuvering a swimming sharptooth need not necessarily overrule the risk of him attracting more sharpteeth to them because of his conspicuously bright dorsal colors.
Of course, all of that meant he'd undertaken the journey for absolutely nothing.
Mo felt like huddling himself away and crying all over again. The brightly lit water that he had lovingly frolicked in earlier now felt cold and suffocating.
Everything had all been for naught. He had nothing left going for him.
Huh? That be…
Mo perked up as he heard Littlefoot call his name out with a confused timbre, the longneck's voice echoing across the area as it reverberated around the tall mountain range surrounding the lake.
Now that was rather peculiar… Mo hadn't expected his disappearance to be noticed so quickly.
Maybe, just maybe, he wasn't forgotten…
Pulling himself together, Mo used his excellent hearing to make out what the landwalkers were saying. Even when he was hidden near the bed of the lake, their voices clearly reverberated through the water in waves similar to his species' shrill articulated calls and was still able to be picked up by him.
Unfortunately for Mo, the first thing he heard after he poked his head up towards the direction of the surface to focus on the landwalkers was not exactly… pleasant to the ear.
"Sounds to me like you just made him up."
Mo shivered as Landwalker Kelp channeled her Big Water counterpart with a tone which almost made the swimmer dart his eyes about, looking around for Orca and his sister, instinctively believing that they were in the vicinity even though common sense dictated that they couldn't logically be anywhere near him after his lengthy journey inland.
He wasn't the only one to have an adverse reaction, though. Littlefoot himself countered the accusation indignantly. "No, I didn't!" he insisted.
"Suuurrreeee you didn't," Landwater Kelp jipped sarcastically.
Mo then heard a grunt which was quickly followed by an agitated retort from Littlefoot. "Well, I didn't!" he protested, "I wouldn't talk to an imaginary friend."
"Why not?" the nasally male voice asked next. "Me talk to imaginary friend all the time."
If Mo could snort underwater at the sheer inanity of that term, he would have done so. What a fitting expression to describe his conundrum. Any possible friendships for him were, after all, merely imaginary… just a figment of his yearnful mind, nothing more, nothing less. They were but a sobering sleep story, and would never become reality. That feeling of longing stemmed unfulfilled, the emptiness slowly consuming Mo even as he tried his best to ward off the feeling of unworthy loneliness.
But those friends who would accompany him needn't be imaginary…
That was the real kicker for Mo, the possible what-ifs and maybes that permeated his doubts — the ever lingering minuscule possibility that perhaps this time he could defy his destiny and manage to attain real friends who would stick by him through thick and thin.
Maybe landwalkers finally be goo-o-o-d friends who accept Mo! Mo have faith!
"Nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah… imaginary!"
Mo found himself rhythmically nodding his head and humming along when he heard them singing.
…maybe they… oh, Mo gonna do it!
Getting into position before he could get cold fins and change his mind, Mo jumped up into the air like he did earlier to once again draw attention to himself. If the sight of his vivid body flying midair didn't draw all eyes towards him, the noisy splash when he reentered the water certainly would do the trick.
And if Ducky's exclamation—hm, was that her name?—was any indicator, it certainly did!
"Come on, everybody. It's Mo!" Littlefoot's ecstatic voice preceded his appearance, though he was quick to dash into view when he finally caught a glimpse of the swimmer that he had been searching for, the longneck accompanied by four others who were quickly following his lead.
It was only then, as Mo once again surfaced so that he could greet them in earnest, that he got his first good look at Littlefoot's other friends. But to his surprise, the rest of the landwalkers didn't share his mud brother's appearance or features at all, lacking the long neck he'd come to associate Littlefoot with. Coming from a pod which mainly consisted of similarly featured Big Water swimmers, Mo had expected Littlefoot's land kin to be as homogeneous as his, but they instead came in a myriad of differing sizes, colors, and even species.
How very peculiar.
Nevertheless, he propelled himself to shore, though he couldn't keep the fretting out of his heart. While his jolly face stayed unperturbed, Mo could feel his heart starting to race.
Were they going to be just like Orca and Kelp? Or perhaps, his water kin? Even Tenor, who appeared to stay by him after everyone else chose to exile him unanimously, had also apparently turned his fin on Mo, leaving him for dead in the middle of nowhere.
His chest continued to pound as he eyed the land-based dinosaurs warily. In his eyes, they didn't seem all that enthused to see him. And frankly, he couldn't blame them. Though it looked like they were unperturbed by his bizarre tendencies, they could simply be faking their enthusiasm, only to turn on him later when he least expected it, just like his fellow water kin.
Of course, Mo made certain that the inner turmoil he felt wasn't too obvious to an observer. The huge—if slightly fractured—smile that he put up as a front made the internal turmoil and discord that was broiling deep inside him almost imperceptible to discern unless one was actively looking for it.
The façade worked like a charm. None of them even batted an eye.
"Mo, these are all my friends." Littlefoot began, turning to a small green dinosaur who was standing on top of another much larger dinosaur and proceeding to introduce her. "This is Ducky."
Yes, he knew that much. He'd overheard her name earlier when the landwalkers were conversing while he was underwater. But what caught Mo's eye now that he could get a good look at her was that she had blue irises, just like him.
"Hi, Mo," Ducky greeted him using the same sweet voice that he'd heard her use earlier, adjusting her position to face him and opening her arms wide open as if she wanted a hug — which he would've gladly reciprocated if she were closer to store. "I am a swimmer too!" she gleefully added.
Mo let out a gasp, turning himself belly-up to reveal his tail fins. "A swimmer and landwalker?" he said, shaking his water foot before somersaulting into the air. "You special!"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes. I am." Ducky giggled bashfully at the praise, holding her legs together and hugging them as Mo landed with a splash, "I guess…"
While Mo grinned at that, he also proceeded to clamp down his jaw and bite his tongue, restraining himself from instinctively making a disparaging addendum after his observation.
After all, being special wasn't necessarily always beneficial. He too had been considered a "special" specimen because of his vivid colors, as Orca had so cruelly attested to when he stealthily used Mo's congenital attributes to turn the water kin against him. Being different wasn't always something worth celebrating, and in the case of the Big Water swimmer his overbearing personality and physical appearance was so out of the norm that he had been looked at with fear and scorn instead of acceptance.
He subtly shook his head, forcing such negative thoughts away. Ducky got both land foot and water foot, she go-o-o-od kind of special, not bad!
As Mo bobbed his nose up and down and looked at the dazed looking dinosaur Ducky was standing on, Littlefoot caught on to his unspoken question and continued on with his introductions. "And this is Spike."
"Ehhhh…" Spike grunted.
Right on cue, Ducky slid off Spike's back and right onto his head. "Spike is very special too," she commended as she cuddled his neck while using it as a foothold, eliciting a jovial smile from Spike. "Especially good at eating," she giggled as he proceeded to demonstrate just that by taking a large bite of a plant growing next to him.
"Ah-h, ah-h!" Mo emulated the sound of Spike's munching, even clapping his fins together to exaggerate the effect. He had to admit, he did like Spike — the dark green color of the landwalker's body reminded him of the deep sea plants he used to munch on. And well… Mo did enjoy his meals.
He continued to laugh as he swam over to a dark brown landwalker which was standing on a mossy outcropping.
"And this is Petrie," Littlefoot helpfully supplied.
"Me a flyer! See?" the so-called flying creature wrapped one wing around the front of his body before flapping his land arms in a manner similar to the way Mo would use his water foot to take off and suspend himself into the air. "Ta-da!" he bowed as he landed. "Nice meeting you, Mo!"
"Ha-ha-ha-ha!" Mo clapped at the flyer's performance, though it did not escape Mo's notice that Petrie spoke in a very similar way to him.
"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?"
Mo couldn't resist a grin. Take that, Kelp! Mo not only one who talk this way!
He had to say though, the knowledge that Petrie shared his manner of speech wasn't the only thing to cheer him up. The entire conversation was uplifting as a whole.
Their generosity. Their sincerity. Their compassion.
It was invigorating, their approval like a symphony to his ears and without a doubt one potent boost to his previously downcast mood. Mo languished in their intoxicating words, the yellow-purple swimmer feeling as though he could subsist on them forever. Their positive support was able to push back those feelings of impotence and boost his morale and self-worth.
For the first time since he had been expelled from the water kin—okay, second if one counted his brief interaction with Littlefoot earlier—Mo felt as though he belonged.
As a matter of fact, he was comfortable enough to bestow the rest of them with the honorary title of mud brothers and sisters as well.
Yo-o-u mud sister, and yo-o-u mud brother, and yo-o-u mud brother, and—
Mo stopped short when he realized there was one final landwalker who he hadn't been introduced to yet.
Littlefoot turned towards an orange dinosaur with a peculiar looking face. A very peculiar face indeed — her face reminded him of the coarse clumps of coral which he often swam around while in the depths of the Big Water.
"And this is Cera."
Mo kept his guard up as Littlefoot introduced the last member of his posse. By process of elimination given all of the other voices he'd already heard, this had to be the derisive dinosaur who'd made him feel down earlier with her words… Landwater Kelp.
Using the same snobby and suspicion-laden voice, she proceeded to stare Mo down. "You're not from around here, are you?" she probed.
Whup, this wasn't good. He shook his head, hoping that Kelp's distaff counterpart would drop the topic.
"Then just where are you from?" Cera demanded. She looked like she had a plethora of other burning questions that she wanted to ask him, but settled for that one first.
Oh well, it wouldn't hurt to tell.
…or would it?
Despite his outwardly carefree demeanor, Mo came to the realization that he should actually be meticulous with his words. He didn't want to divulge any personal details that could implicate him, especially after Orca had tricked him into unwillingly revealing compromising details about himself in front of his peers and thus coloring their opinions of Mo, which the bully then used as a trump card to influence the other swimmers into voting him out of the kin.
Well, Mo had learnt a valuable lesson from that, and he refused to be blindsided a second time. But still, seeing the rest of them looking at him expectantly, he realized that it would be hypocritical if he didn't furnish some details about himself given that he was such a curious one himself.
He eventually settled on a compromise — while he could tell them about himself, he didn't have to go into specifics and could just respond as vaguely as possible.
"Mo-o-o-o from Biiggg Wa-ter," he replied with a backflip.
A resounding gasp rang across the shore at his answer. "Big Water?!" they uttered in unison, gobsmacked.
Mo had to admit, he was shocked that judging from their reaction it appeared that they knew about the Big Water. After all, he was an inhabitant of the place and conversely never knew a thing about the landwalkers and their amazing Big Land.
Petrie shot up, pointing to the distant falls with one wing while staying airborne with the other. "But… how you get here when Big Water wayyyyy over there?"
Mo pensively looked at them, nervously flicking his water foot back and forth. Petrie had brought up a very good point. After all, if everything had turned out well he would have never found his way over here. It seemed unusual that someone like him would venture this far inland to begin with… which of course, was the entire point.
"Use this opportunity and make your way up to the deepest and innermost part of land—to a place where none of our species has ever traversed before—and return back to the Big Water in one singular piece to tell your tale."
Hm, what should he do? Mo was in a dilemma. He couldn't very well tell them about his estranged relationship with his water kin, now could he? What would they think of Mo if they knew that his very own kind had practically disowned him? That the only reason he was here was because of a wager meant to prove his worth?
Once bitten, twice shy, and thus this time Mo opted to give a simplified snippet of the events that had led him here while deliberately omitting key details such as Tenor's deal with him and his skirmish with the sharptooth Lagda.
If new mud brothers know big secret, they probably be scared of Mo, just like old water kin was! No-o-o-o… Mo no want Littlefoot and friends leave! Mo want friends!
"Oo-o-h-h-h! Skyplace make lots and lots of sky water!" Mo started with a shrill, proceeding to slap his tail against the surface of the water to create a spray of droplets which quickly splashed down to give the appearance of a small-scale storm.
He then sloshed about in the water, making choppy currents which battered his body as he frowned. "Make big waves in Big Water. Mo scared…" he admitted.
It wasn't exactly the truth. All his life when he was living in the Big Water he knew to stay away from the surface whenever there was a storm. His species' excellent eyesight and hearing made it possible for Mo to hear the pitter-patter of falling sky water coming from above, and thus he knew to avoid the choppy waters whenever the sky water decided not to play nice. As such, while he didn't like rough currents, he wasn't exactly scared of them. He'd battled tougher.
But he had to gain their sympathy, so he trudged forward with his sob story. It was a given that he wasn't going to mention his skirmish with Lagda, as revealing that knowledge would be a dampener on the uplifting mood he currently had going.
"So Mo swim into small water path, then p-u-u-u-h-wish!" He proceeded to rapidly swim in a tight anticlockwise circle that began to generate a miniature whirlpool. "Mo do like th-i-i-i-i-s!" his voice reverberated as he spun, the world spinning around him as he went into a spiral.
"Then, f-a-a-a-a-a-ll!" Mo drew out the last syllable, before diving down and corkscrewing into the water with a flourish to punctuate his action. After he escaped his spin, he ascended till he was just below the surface, eagerly awaiting their reactions. What would they think, he pondered.
"All the sky water must have washed him over from the Mysterious Beyond," Littlefoot concluded.
Oh, yes, Mo thought. Let Littlefoot think it one big accident Mo here.
Ducky knelt down on the ground in distress, compassion written all over her visage. "Oh… poor, poor Mo." Still in a kneeling position, she leaned her body forward as Mo surfaced, "Did you get washed-ed over all by yourself?
"Mm-hmm," Mo repeatedly nodded to reiterate, "Mm-hmm, mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm."
Cera took this moment to step forward, seemingly unconvinced by his response. "And you're sure that no one else came with you?" she pressed.
Right at that exact moment, Mo heard a low growl emanating from below. And to his horror, he recognized that sound. "Mo… all alone," he fibbed, apprehensively kicking his fins rhythmically underwater.
Not a single swimmer from any water kin by his side, that much was the truth…
"But now, Mo have new friends!" he affirmed with childlike wonder in his tone. "Oh, ho, ho, ho!" Hoping that he wouldn't come off too conspicuous, he used his laughter to back away from shore before leaping back into the water with a declaration of, "Have fun-n-n!" at the apex of his jump.
Once he had disguised the dive into the lake as one made in excitement, Mo headed down to investigate the depths below, swimming in the direction where he had heard the unsettling noise come from. But as he descended, a large shadow slowly drifted into view from the rocky lakebed below.
He recoiled at the sight, jaw opening wide as his fears were realized. No, it couldn't be…
"L-Lagda!" Mo gasped in fright, instantly recognizing the dark gray hide that adorned the swimmer sharptooth. How could Mo not, when his failure to do so from afar in the first place had led to him being chased all the way up to this quaint lake that he was currently dwelling in.
He stared at the approaching sharptooth in horror as the predator's yellow eyes narrowed to the size of silts, glinting in stark juxtaposition to the comparatively bright turquoise water that surrounded both swimmers. To say that the sharptooth was unhappy would be an understatement. When Lagda charged forward with a battle cry, his gravelly voice was laced with so much venom and hatred that it put the scathing tone that a dismissive Orca typically used when being discriminatory towards Mo to shame.
"You little pest! I spent an entire night waiting for you to show from behind the rock wall where I'd assumed you were futilely hiding yourself from me, but it turns out that you'd managed to find some way to ditch me upstream!" Lagda hissed, adding a rough accent to the distinctive bleating of Mo's kind as he cut through the water, his eyes screaming bloody murder as he continued to surge at his target.
"O-of course Mo going find way escape when you want trap Mo!" he stuttered as he dodged to the right. "You just mad because Mo outsmart you, you bad swimmer!"
Even though Mo had avoided the sharptooth's attack, Lagda continued to surge upwards to the surface, the momentum of his large body forcing him to continue in the direction he'd committed himself to. "Grrrrr! That's exactly right! How very polite of you to point it out yourself!" he snarled viciously, "But you made me look like a fool in the process… and you'll pay for that, tasty morsel!" The predator peered back at Mo, before his eyes gleamed menacingly as he focused them on the group of landwalkers who were congregated at the surface, all five of them still blissfully unaware of the sharptooth's presence from the depths below.
"…or rather, your little landwalker friends will!" Lagda glanced back at Mo with a smirk, continuing his rapid ascent. "I was eyeing you talking to them for quite some time now, and though I might not know how to speak landwalker, even I am able to tell that you've bonded with them."
Mo blanched when he realized exactly what Lagda was insinuating. "You going after mud brothers…!"
"That's right. I'm going to exact my revenge by hitting you exactly where it hurts — by tearing your new friends apart from you… literally limb from limb!"
Mo really does have a hedonistic view of happiness…
Yes, the song Imaginary Friends did inspire this chapter. I'm not particularly fond of the premise of the song, but it is too catchy for its own good. Otherwise, this chapter is mainly about the rest of the gang's introductions with Mo. Nothing much else to add, really. If the last chapter was vanilla, this one is even more so.
Anagnos: I like that you paid attention to Mo's feelings. Sometimes life just throws a curveball like that. Indeed, having Mo have a driving goal instead of being just along for the ride does make him a more relatable character.
Keijo6: Yeah, we've never actually had any Mo appearance that went further than cameos which just showcase his carefree nature, in part because he seems like a purely one-dimensional character. For all the movie does to paint Mo as an ethereal creature compared to the gang, it doesn't really gloss over what Mo himself thinks about the differences between him and them beyond a cursory glance.
zero fullbuster: Thank you for your continued interest in this story! I appreciate it!
Rhombus: Upon a rewatch, it actually caught me off guard that Mo doesn't actually appear as much as I remembered, but Mo is such an imposing driving force throughout the film that he is the topic of contention even when he is out of sight. Mo is such an expressive and talkative character that we can often tell how he's feeling through his antics or simply by him saying so. Like what I said to Sovereign, as someone who goes by "show, don't tell", I kind of wish to subvert the initial expectations of being easy to read through his appearance, especially now that we are into canon material.