Summer 2019 Contest Entry: Sweets by the Seaside

Orchid Bay and Bravo Beach might've been two of the top summer vacation spots, but Silya had a certain fondness for Candy Cove. It was surrounded by a lush forest that kept it isolated from the neighborhood—keeping city noise and the amount of people bustling around it to a minimum. More importantly though, if you passed the resting place of the Sweet Revenge and followed the creek all the way to the sea, there were none of Fuse's monsters stalking about to ruin an otherwise perfect day by the shore.

Unfortunately, the Fusion Fighter leaders thought the same thing. They had turned the ideal spot into one of their more secretive bases of operations. As a result, they were always monitoring who came and went from the area. Numbuh 20,000 was one of the worst sticklers assigned to the cove, chasing away almost everyone who wasn't there on duty. If it weren't for Stickybeard and his crew, the place would've just become another dull mark of war.

Stickybeard wasn't a part of the top rung of leaders, but he was one of everyone's favorites. He led with a boisterousness that was easy to rally behind, replacing the fear of battle with the thrill of adventure. He made Candy Cove's base lively. Better still, he handed out some of the best missions—easy and fun jobs that were often a much-needed respite from the war effort. There was no doubt in Silya's mind that any Fusion Fighter called to his side would come running. That went for herself too: The instant she had received a transmission from him to come to the cove, she readied her nanos, packed her supplies, and left.

Dozens of Fusion Fighters had rushed over. After passing the sentries that kept the Candy Buccaneers at bay, Silya found herself standing on the coast with a swarm of her fellow soldiers hanging out by the water. Some of them chatted with each other, catching one another up on their adventures. Most swam close to the shoreline, took turns jumping off the nearby cliffs, or reclined on hastily strapped-together rafts. A few used their hoverbikes as improvised jet skis over the shallow waves. One group had even brought a picnic. A self-respecting warrior would balk at the rowdy mob that had gathered just to have a good time all while the war raged on.

That's what made it perfect. Moments like this were what kept hope alive.

Silya stumbled forward as she was greeted with a forceful slap to the back, "Here ye are, lass! Shufflin' in with the stragglers, are ye?"

She'd recognize the red, burly mat of hair tangled with lollipops any day. She gave the pirate a light smirk, "Considering how I had to slip away from Dex and Mandark, I'm probably lucky to be here at all."

Stickybeard guffawed at that, walking with her to the water's edge, "Sounds like those two boys could use some time out of the lab themselves. I hope ye know that I didn't just call all of ye here fer a swim though." Looping an arm over her shoulders, he directed her gaze out to sea, "Fuse's goons blasted a hole in me ship b'fore we could pull her onto land and try to turn her around. We thought we lost most of our candy when the infection took over. Turns out that a good part of it spilled out into the water first."

"And you want help getting it back."

"Aye! There's not enough hands to go around: We needed a few extra sweet-tooths with strong backs to lift it all." He turned to bark orders at the Fusion Fighters standing around, "That goes fer you lot! Ye can have yer fun, but ye better scrape every bit of candy off the seafloor! And a portion of the bounty to whoever rounds up enough of it!" As though to highlight his point, he tore a lollipop from his beard and plopped it into his mouth.

Aye aye, captain! The crowd lifted in a short chorus of cheers in reply and Stickybeard marched off. Silya paused to watch him go before hitting a few controls on her belt and kneeling to fetch some goggles and an oxygen mask from her pack. Streaks of red, blue, and gold danced around her as she summoned her nanos. As she readied her equipment, the trio hovered close by to wait for orders:

"Mandy, use your Finder ability to scan for anything under the water," she began to direct as she double-checked the mask's filter, "Four Arms, help collect any loose pieces of candy that may have sunk to the bottom. Courage…"

She looked down to the little, pink canine that stayed low to the sand, gazing meekly at the water and the large group of Fusion Fighters that surrounded them. He was one of her newest nanos and he hadn't seen much experience out in the field. She had hoped taking a bit of a break would help him find his place on the team. However, somehow, he was even more anxious than the original Courage: It was going to take some time.

She gave him a reassuring grin, pointing over to a less crowded section of the beach, "Anything we miss could wash up on shore, so wait for us and see what you can scavenge on land."

He blinked back up at her for a moment, then gave a somewhat relieved smile and nodded.

Within a few minutes, they had laid out a place for him and set their belongings aside. Nano Mandy darted off ahead to begin the search. The chill of the water seeped through Silya's wetsuit as she waded in, biting down on the rebreather's mouthpiece and adjusting the goggles over her eyes. As she ducked beneath the waves, the chatter above was muffled to a dull roar and the world around her transformed into a symphony of striking blues and softly greyed greens:

A thick layer of algae carpeted over the large rocks that littered the seafloor. A large trail carved through them where the Sweet Revenge had pulled into the creek's mouth only to follow it and later turn around to where the ship now stayed. There weren't too many different types of fish around, but there plenty of mussels, clams, and sea urchins buried in the sand or tucked between stones. Other Fusion Fighters with their own diving gear and assisting nanos wove through the rocks in search of the missing candy.

A blur of red and gold shot past her in an eruption of bubbles as Four Arms jumped in after her and swam off. She looked up and could make out the pink of Mandy's outfit above the distortion of the water's surface. Diving even further down, her eyes scanned the seafloor along the trail. Whatever candy that had fallen out of the ship would more than likely have landed along the same path; however—whether because it had already been collected or carried away by the current—the way was clear.

I just hope anything we find will be worth saving. Chocolate dipped in saltwater didn't appeal to her anyway, although she doubted Stickybeard himself would care too much. Hopefully, most of the sweets were wrapped and sealed tight.

Within a few minutes, nano Mandy returned—diving beneath the waves and motioning for Silya to follow her. They ventured further away from the beach, swimming to one of the larger cliff-faces that sat at the edge of the cove before it spilled out to the open sea. A chest sat lodged between the rocks. Bingo! Leaving Silya to do the heavy lifting, Mandy returned to the surface to regain her breath and continue the search. Silya pressed a foot against one of the rocks as a platform, grabbing one of the large, bronze handles along the sides of the chest with both hands, and pulled.

She couldn't lift it. She tugged it into an upright position and inched it away from the rocks, only for her to sink back down with its heavy weight. Eventually, another Fusion Fighter noticed her struggling and came to help—gripping the chest by the other side to balance the load. She gave the other an appreciative nod, and the two kicked away from the stones in unison to launch themselves back to the surface.

A tentacle shot out from the crevice beneath the chest to make a grab for it. A black eye glistened from the shadows and Silya's heart leapt in surprise as she watched the reddish-orange shape creep into view. The feeling was swiftly replaced, however, by humor at the sight of the tiny octopus that clung to the wood. Its attempt to yank the chest back was fruitless, the Fusion Fighters carrying the sea creature with them before the latter's nano Bubbles could gently urge the creature back to its home. They brought the chest over to one of the waiting rafts, where another pair of hands helped them lift it onboard.

"There better be candy leftover for us at the end of this," she heard someone fuss to her left. Nano Mandy hovered close by, clutching a nougat bar in her arms. She glared hard at it for a moment, then tossed it onto the raft with a pile of other loose sweets.

Silya briefly removed her rebreather to tease the Blaston, "Then no slacking off. We gotta make sure to get a little for everyone." If her nanos shared only one trait, it was an incurable love of sweets.

"No way! Only anyone who helps gets a share!"

She and the other pair of Fusion Fighters just laughed at the bratty declaration. After introductions were made, the group joined forces to try to collect as much as they could. As expected, not everything they found was salvageable, but that would be for Stickybeard and the other candy pirates to sort through. They stacked all of the candy into a large pile, sending the raft off mid-hunt to drop what they found off at the main camp, then dragging the raft back for another round.

Silya was scouring through the sand when she found something glistening under it. She had been at her task for so long that, at first, she thought it was a piece of taffy. Upon closer inspection, however, she saw that it was a pink, speckled shell. It reminded her of her Courage nano, and she stowed it in her pocket for later. Maybe she could collect a shell for each of her nanos as a small souvenir.

A kind of motherly worry hit her when she swam to surface once again to check on him only to find their spot on the beach empty. Safe as the place was, habit cast a wave of fear over her. Even though—as a nano—he could fly, she thought of him drowning. Even though the place was clear of fusion monsters, her thoughts went to the Candy Buccaneers not too far away.

Her heart raced, and she began to swim back to shore when at last she spotted a pink shape several meters away from their spot. Courage tottered back with an armful of candy he had apparently gathered along the coastline. A few seconds later, seeing her watching him, he waved at her only to clumsily drop part of his spoils.

She blinked, steadying her nerves, then smiled.

Later that evening, as the sun fell and the first stars began to appear in the sky, the candy pirates, Fusion Fighters, and their nanos gathered around a large bonfire. Stickybeard made a big show of it, taking the opportunity to tell everyone one of his adventures—casting wide gestures with a booming voice to emphasize the action in his story. Silya's three nanos all huddled around her, somewhat sleepy but all too intent on staying awake. Silya organized the shells she had gathered, sorting out which ones to give to the members of her team.

Nano Courage snuggled up against her leg, seeping in the fire's warmth. Their group had been given a few days off for Stickybeard's "mission" and had collected plenty of candy already, so—for the most part—they could enjoy the beach for the remainder of their trip. There was a nano station close-by, so she'd probably switch out everyone to give them all a chance to fully enjoy the summer waves and the time off from the war.

All in all, it was a pretty sweet vacation.