The feeling of wind on your neck. The crunch of sand beneath your feet. The call of a gull as it flies overhead. Many of these sounds, feelings that have long ago lost their magic, their beauty, we take for granted, though they make us who we are. Feeling, breathing, living humans.
But what happens when you take away that breath, those feelings? You are left in a world of darkness. A world of mystery that instead of beckoning you in, makes it clear to you that you will never know its secrets. A world that welcomes monsters and shields itself away from humanity. Such a place could never exist. And yet. Deep down, deep below the towns and cities, deep below anything we have explored, deeper than we ever guessed. Deep below, there is life. Living, feeling life. But they aren’t like us.
While we have lungs to breathe sweet air, they have gills that bring the very substance around them inside of them, soaking it in, embracing the darkness, before releasing it back into the void. While we have arms and legs to run, to climb, to touch, they have great webbed fingers with skin dyed a deep green from life without sun, without life. Where we find nothing in the dark, they grasp out in the darkness and they clench onto a hidden rock, a stand of seaweed, a stray from their group, gripped fingers making sure that once they’ve taken hold of their target, there is no way to escape. They are not human, nor fish, some terrible combination of the two. They could never be accepted in Heaven or Hell. And yet. The ocean chose them.
It respects this bony figure with seemingly no place on this Earth or anywhere else. It looks deep into their blackened souls and sees promise. Promise to do what no sane creature could do. They were selected. They rule this sick place. The world of darkness, now theirs. A gaping hole in a rock is their palace, the remains of a dead, unrecognizable thing, scraped off the ocean floor, is their great banquet. Their loyal subjects are monsters, full of teeth and claws, many of them literally blind to their own terror. But where could they go? They only know of this dark merciless place, they have never seen the surface, never know we exist. Never will they see the bright sun on their pale skin, nor the sounds of laughter or playing. They have no need for it where they come from. So they remove any trace of it. That’s how they survive. They adapt, manipulate, change everything about themselves to fit this awful world’s standards. They know what will happen if they don’t. Those remains on the ocean floor, bones scraped clean, soul floated away in the current, claimed by the ocean floor, could be them next. There is no mercy for the weary. No sympathy for the weak. Down, deep down, there is a watery hell, and they rule its demons. Scorching hot underwater volcanoes. Currents that guide you down gently at first, but the pull becomes too strong, and there is nothing you can do but disappear. Things that hide in the sand or in a hole, camouflaged and dormant, cursed to be alive but not living forever. And yet. They are content. Until they aren’t.
Until they decide they must expand their borders. Until they decide to swim beyond the darkness, the only thing they know. They begin their journey, moving directly upwards for days on end, their red eyes focused upward, forward, away. They move swiftly, knowing where every riptide, every current is, never letting themselves get tired, never letting themselves show weakness. As they continue their ascent, the water begins to become brighter, cleaner, and even they wince as the pressure drops, forcing weight off their shoulders, weight they never knew they could live without. In fact, many of the other fish begin dropping off in places when it becomes unbearable for their compressed bodies. They know their place. But not them.
They continue to swim, never ceasing their strokes, every push upward incredibly efficient, revealing years of practice to target, to flee, to attack. They reach the final layer.
They stay beneath the waves, but the sun still manages to burn their pale skin, strains their eyes adapted for darkness, welcomes them to this world with a harsh shove. This world of light. Then they see something. Floating above the waves. It starts with one, an odd, bobbing blob. Then another. And another. They are yelling, screaming, laughing.
They stare at these creatures for some time, frozen as they survey this foe, for there are no friends in their world. They stare at their fat, manicured feet, and rub in between their webbed, clawed hands. They stare at their molded, sunburnt bodies, and hug their skinny, pale figures, blistered from even the brief encounter of the sun, the light. They stare at their vibrant suits, and hide deeper behind a strand of seaweed, their dark skin blending in perfectly. They stare at them, frozen for a moment, thinking. Then they look at each other. And back up at them.
By some language learned only by spending a lifetime in silence, a single sound alerting your murderer, a place that straying from the path could mean instant death or a new adaptation that could save your bloodline, from a lifetime living in that horrible world of darkness, they understand each other, and what they must do. They stare up at the bloated, unaware creatures, not so curious anymore. Their eyes shine with malice, their fingers twitch impatiently. There is no use in trying to understand these rejects of adaption. They are simply prey invading their territory. They swim up, ignoring the sun warning them to get no closer. They know how to live, in their own terrible way. They know how to handle prey. They were taught. Taught by the world of darkness.