Baneal, a day before
Sweat drifted from the pores in Anna’s forehead into the currents resting about her. She spun and did a loop in the waters beyond Baneal’s mud pillar homes as a trident thrust where she had just been.
With the trident clutched sternly in her hands, Anna’s attacker grinned deviously before thrusting for her again.
Anna took her own trident, spun it in the currents, and lodged it in her attacker’s weapon as the curly, longhaired, female attacker flung forward.
Their weapons locked in embrace, spinning them clockwise up and down in the waters. The attacker dislodged her trident and struck Anna’s trident once more, in an attempt to dislodge the weapon.
Spinning the prongs of her trident, Anna dislodged the attacker’s weapon instead. Anna swam with all her might after the fleeing opponent, chasing her around two mud pillar homes before cornering her against a rock outcropping and the ground.
With a swift thrust Anna plunged her trident away from her hands and toward the curly haired attacker, pinning the girl’s right, upward-stretched arm, and neck against the ocean floor below.
The other girl began to laugh. “One of these days I’ll beat you, you know,” Anna’s new friend, Millay, joked with her. “Are you going to get this thing off of me, or should I start calling for help from someone else?”
“You had me scared for a second there.” Anna grinned as she dove down to release her friend from her trident’s grasp. She had met Millay in the months that had passed since the Meridians had come to Baneal with Sift and his people. Here they had been trained by their new dark-skinned friends and practiced in bouts with each other to perfect the tactics they were taught. Anna usually prevailed when the two fought but they had both improved immensely with time.
Anna gripped the trident’s long shaft and tugged on it to release it from the ocean floor. Something sharp pressed slightly into her back, releasing the smallest droplet of blood.
“In a battle there is more then one opponent. Just remember that,” a young male voice exclaimed from behind her. “Always remain alert.”
Anna looked to Millay, rolling her eyes as she did so. “Sebastian?”
“How’d you guess?” Millay shrugged her free shoulder. “I thought you’d get more excitement in discovering him behind you then you would if I were to give away his location.”
Tao’s son Sebastian had been helping the girls train, partly in an attempt to help them progress, mostly because he was a young boy coming of age who was just becoming interested in girls.
Sebastian pulled the longest point of his trident away from Anna’s back. “Tag. You’re it!”
“You wouldn’t have beaten me if I’d have known you were there,” Anna smirked. “Care to have a fair, one on one match?” She dislodged her trident from the ocean floor, unpinning Millay and bracing it in attack position toward Sebastian.
Sebastian jutted backward in the waters, positioning his trident offensively also. “Touché!”
He thrust for her, aiming for her waist, but Anna quickly spun away. She returned immediately, striking his trident as he spun to meet her.
Clang! Clang! Clang! The weapons collided over and over again in the swift flowing, light blue waters.
Anna dove beneath Sebastian, thrusting her trident up. He bobbed upward and met her trident with his own. With his strength he drove her toward the sea floor. His dark muscles tensed as he moved with her, all the while staying above her body. “You would beat me one on one?” He mocked.
Anna’s beautiful form swam swiftly to the ocean floor. She bent her knees as her feet touched the sands below, lifted-off upward with a swift flex of her legs and shot behind Sebastian before he knew what was happening. With a downward thrust she pinned Sebastian to the ocean floor, his trident locked in hers as he squirmed to push her up.
A clapping sound came from behind the skirmish. “Well done, young ones! Well done!” Tao exclaimed as he hovered in the waters above them. “I almost wish I didn’t have to interrupt the excitement, but it’s time for our final nightly feast before our leaving for Meridia tomorrow morning. Sift and all the others are waiting for us in the great hall of dining.”
Anna released Sebastian from her trident’s clutches and he swam off after his father toward the meeting hall.
“I would have beaten you!” Sebastian called back as he swam. “Rematch?”
“We’ll see about that.” Anna called after him, rolling her eyes at Millay.
The two girls hugged the ocean floor as they swam, side by side, toward the dining hall.
The bizarre thing about Baneal, Anna thought, was the way the vast city was constructed. It was built as if it were not a vast city at all, but rather only a few mere mud pillar homes stretching toward the ocean’s surface that happened to be positioned in the same place. The true vastness of Baneal, however, existed in dugout catacombs beneath the rising pillars.
Anna and Millay swept around the base of a mud pillar, then another, and down a vast dark crevice in the ground.
Voices echoed up from the distance below them as they swam downward, passing illuminated corridors on both sides. After a series of curves and turns, the girls entered the vast dining area through an opening along its roof. Various hues of jellyfish hovered in the waters, illuminating the cool cavern.
The girls swiftly dove, taking their seats next to Sebastian, who was eagerly awaiting his meal.
“Took you long enough!” Sebastian exclaimed.
A few moments later one of the dining hall’s cooks swam above them, letting trays of food glide down to them from above.
Anna reached up and grabbed hers, bringing it to settle down on the coral table before her. The meal of richly seasoned shark-steak and kelp looked scrumptious. She waited for Millay and Sebastian to grab theirs also before cutting into the tender shark.
Men and women with spears poked the illuminated jellyfish, directing them toward a stage before the gathering, where Tao and Sift tread water, in what had just been darkness.
Tao cracked a malta shell before him on the ground, its insides spilling molten ooze. He did this when he wished to get the attention of the room.
“People of Baneal and Meridia,” Tao began, his armor glistening in the glow of the jellyfish. His hand clenched in the waters above. “We have trained in the art of battle for months for one purpose, to reclaim Meridia and free the Meridians enslaved there. The beings from Sangfoul have tormented our peoples for long enough. Tomorrow they will torment us no more!”
Cheers swept through the dining audience. A group of Meridians, close by, banged their hands on the table.
Tao hushed them with a swift movement of his hand. “For far too long they have enslaved us, slaughtered us, and caged us in both Sangfoul and Meridia! As morning light collects on the water’s surface above, we will leave on our journey. Pack what you need. Harness your riding-fish. By nightfall we will collect our revenge!”
The crowd roared as Tao smiled before them. He bowed and swam back in the waters, allowing Sift room to swim foreword and take center stage.
The room resumed their eating; except for Anna and a few others, they quit paying attention to what was playing out before them.
“I fear though that forget we may something, as free the people of Meridia we do,” Sift spoke in strong, but not loud tones. “These men of Sangfoul, families they have also of their own. We do, what done must be, but do it not cruelly, for their families will remember what done we have to them, and forget what done they have to us. If for any reason, standing, we slaughter them as they have us, in truth we be but their equals.”
Anna thought about what Sift said as the others ate around her. Sift was difficult to understand at times, but what he said made sense. She would remember that the people she fought had souls and families when fighting for her people’s freedom tomorrow, but realized that most people by her side may not. What will the following days bring? She thought to herself.
Sebastian pinched her side. “Pass the flavoring jellies?” He grinned.