Current to the Throne isn't a regular story.
I mean, it really isn't.
It is a story mainly about a canon character, but it is, as far as we know, completely canon-compatible. Nothing, to my knowledge, is contradicted. I spent literally months working all the inconsistencies. If you spot any, please notify me! Also comment your thoughts, opinions, etc. Additionally, it was made to convince people not to hate Whirlpool over on the canon, by showing a completely possible but much more positive light for his actions.
Post stuff about it here if you want me to see it.
Thanks to Shadespots for being my editor (and thinking of the title), Lulerb for thinking of chapter names and my other editor, Hydra for being a third editor and one of my closest friends, Eclipse for being my fourth editor, XUbiquitousx for being my fifth editor, Shade for being my sixth editor, and Shadow for being a pre-reader (if I ever write it before posting XD).
As of January 14, 2016, Shade has taken over in the development process.
- I spend a long time researching this story, and have been writing it in one form or another for about 2 months. I have the general plot laid out, but exactly what will happen isn't decided yet. The main purpose of this story is to draw out Whirlpool's character, but the rest is vague or spoilery. I looked up topics such as chaos theory, anti-sniper tactics, electric eel shocks, how to teach children multiplication, 90s slang, and I spent a while calculating the most effective methods of SeaWing combat.
- If you like Whirlpool, click here to save him.
- Anyone can use this. Tell me, credit me, and you can write your own story, reference events, anything. The reason is simple: I hope the theory of his past becomes a generally accepted phenomenon, like "Gamer Luna" and "Derpy" from MLP.
- I am going to spend a few more chapters of this story at this age. I want to cover his whole life, but this is important to show what gave him his principles.
- Whirlpool's making progress under Chaetognath's tutelage... he might not need it much longer...
- Sorry about the short chapters. We'll get a nice long one next, as well as an intermission before Part 3.
- Well, Chapter 20 is FINALLY OUT! Which means Part Two is over! Yay!
DISCLAIMER!!!! I DO NOT OWN WINGS OF FIRE OR ANY CANON CHARACTERS!!! THOSE BELONG TO SUTHERLAND AND SCHOLASTIC!!! I MAKE NO PROFIT FROM THIS STORY!!!!
Current to the Throne is a story written by Matau99. It started as a sort of proof-of-concept, to test if it was possible to convince people to stop hating Whirlpool. It was a tremendous success, to my surprise. Since then, it has become a continued story, and now it has evolved into a part of the goal to convince as many people as possible to sign the Save Whirlpool petition.
“…So I really should ask for Auklet instead.” Whirlpool was slightly nervous now, but he didn’t think Anemone had it in her to kill, and Tsunami was safely behind the moat.
Tsunami yelled, “You can’t tell them!” Whirlpool didn’t respond, musing whether or not he should start fleeing. He noticed Tsunami preparing to strike, but her MudWing friend stopped her. Suddenly, he saw a glint of metal from behind him. A sharp pain hit his temple, and he felt himself losing his balance. He saw the moat beneath him, and tried to call for help, but unconsciousness claimed him first.
Whirlpool awoke. He wasn’t sure if that was entirely a good thing, judging from how much he hurt, but at least he was alive. What happened? he thought. I should be reading a scroll, but I’m underwater, I feel like I got stung by jellyfish everywhere on my body, and something is eating my tail. Wait, something is eating my tail!
He almost screamed, but managed to calm himself enough to not freak out. He looked at the tail-eater. It was a large, grayish-green fish; an electric eel. He shuddered. If I attack them, they'll shock me again—and I might not survive. If I fly out, they also might shock me—I’m not strong enough to move fast. I guess the only thing I can do is wait for them to fall asleep. Hopefully they’re not very hungry. It took every drop of willpower he possessed to not scream in agony as they literally ate him alive, but he managed it.
About five minutes later they stopped feeding and seemed to go into a kind of stupor. Whirlpool twitched, and then leapt out of the water. His talons grasped the edge of the moat. He groaned, and pulled himself onto the ledge. He lay panting, almost unconscious again from the effort he put into that jump.
Whirlpool looked at the cage where Tsunami had been. He was unsurprised to see it was now empty. Either Anemone used her powers, or maybe after I was shocked that smart NightWing realized that it would briefly be safe. He definitely seemed bright enough, from the meal we had together.
He checked his wings and torso. There was no major damage beyond electric burns, fast heartbeat, and some cuts. His tail was much worse off. He could see some of the bones, and most of the meat was gone. Luckily, the electric eels had just stripped off the fat and some muscle, not the bones or the nerves. He had some mild trouble breathing, but not much.
He finally did a mental test to check for memory loss or reduced intelligence. What was the motive for the killer in A Tail of Blood? It was a control on the government through the puppets of the killer who were appointed as advisors by the queen. What’s the name of element 59? Praseodymium. What’s eight to the fifth power? 32768.
Whirlpool considered his options. He muttered to himself, “It seems I’ll be fine after I get some medicine, find Tsunami, and tell Queen Coral and Queen Blister what Anemone can do. After all, once I tell the queens how powerful Anemone is, Tsunami won’t matter anymore. I can just marry Auklet and let the other princesses live, as it seems neither of them really want the throne.”
He had never really liked the idea of attacking Tsunami, but he accepted it as a necessity to fulfill his dreams. Most dragons might look upon him as a backstabbing sycophantic power-hungry creep, but he had a lot more depth than most thought. Queen Coral was one of the dragons who knew the real him, but he’d asked her to keep it secret. His parents did as well. There had once been one other dragon that had seen him for who he really was, but he couldn’t think about her. Not after what had happened.
Alright, pull yourself together, Whirlpool. You’re one of the smartest dragons in the world. Don’t think about what you lost that day. Just keep planning your next move. He took a deep breath—rather hard with his respiratory system disrupted—and listened and smelled as hard as he could. Something wasn’t right. He thought he could smell fire. But that was impossible—right? He walked out of the cave, and almost fell unconscious again.
While he was in the moat, apparently Burn’s forces had attacked. The palace was burned out, the plant cover ashes. Only a few SkyWing soldiers were left, presumably to make sure no one was alive. Whirlpool had a brilliant idea. Part of him thought, Everyone thinks I’m dead now. This is an opportunity to sell all the SeaWing secrets to their enemies.
Another side of him, the side he’d kept secret most of his life, replied, But that’s treason, and doing so would make my entire tribe hate me. Even if Burn won, everyone at home would curse my name forever. Also, how would I become king?
The first side asked, Would I rather be an unknown dead hero who was hated his whole life than rich and powerful? But if I am so against betraying my tribe, maybe there’s another option. What if I just go into the ocean, meet Coral, tell her about Anemone’s powers, and marry Auklet?
The second part of him said, Am I really comfortable using a one-year-old dragonet as a stepping stone to becoming king? And how do I know Anemone won’t kill me on sight?
The first side said, Alright, what if I just leave the Sea Kingdom? I could go to the Talons of Peace; they’d love to hear about Anemone. If they are cooperating with that NightWing that met with Coral, they’d really need Anemone on their side. After that, what if I just go to the NightWings? They could help me, appoint me to the throne, and all without having to kill Tsunami!
The other side of him finished, Fine. The Talons and then the NightWings it is. Just please don’t kill anyone unless it’s self-defense.
Now that he had finished his internal argument, he knew what he had to do. He muttered to himself, “Maybe someday I’ll go tell Coral about Anemone, but not today.” He shook out his agonized wings, and took off. He heard the soldiers behind him exclaiming in shock.
“There’s another one! After him!” the lead soldier yelled at his troops. Whirlpool briefly panicked, as his fighting skills had been compromised from the eels, but then he reminded himself he wasn’t going to fight. He was going to flee, and annoy some SkyWings while he was at it.
He looked behind him. They were closing fast, mouths open, ready to breathe fire. He grinned, and dove straight into the water around the palace. The same soldier screamed, “Think we’re scared of a little water? Well, you’re wrong!”
Whirlpool smirked to himself and hid in one of the many underwater caves. He could hear the SkyWings struggling to even stay down for more than 5 minutes. He thought, Maybe you should have kept some MudWings here, idiots. Now I’m safe and you look like fools in front of your troops.
After about half an hour, he exited the cave, and considered the secret exit. He guessed they knew where it was because his tribe-members would have tried to flee out of it. Therefore, that was out of the question. Only one possibility remained: flying out. Unfortunately, the SkyWings would have had some troops there too, as obviously they would want to cover all exits.
If only I had an ally who was completely expendable as a target for them. It figures Tsunami is never around when you want her, and always is when you don’t. I think she does that just to annoy me.
Whirlpool thought through the possibilities. He could try to swim at max speed, but he didn’t like that plan because of his injuries. The better option seemed to be flying out through the canopy. He calculated that the majority of the troops would be above the palace, as only a few would have to guard the tunnel. Perhaps he could fly out the top, and as soon as he was out, he’d dive underwater. They couldn’t touch him there.
Whirlpool took a deep breath through his gills, feeling the cool water rush through the filaments, and leapt out of the water. He heard shouts around the palace, and he flew straight up. His wings screamed in protest, but he kept flying anyway. He risked a glance behind him. The SkyWings were gaining on him.
He turned to fly horizontally toward the mainland. The SkyWings adjusted their flight direction to compensate for this. The closest were only about 10 lengths away. Too bad they can’t swim, he thought with a mental chuckle. He clamped his wings shut against his body, and went into a straight dive.
The soldiers cried in disarray; the water could well kill them from this height in a straight fall. Whirlpool was fully aware of this fact. Right before he would slam into the water, he pulled up slightly. Once he'd broken his fall, he dove into the ocean.
He looked up from beneath the sea. The SkyWings had broken off early, apparently deciding killing another SeaWing wasn’t worth dying for. They now circled the area he’d gone under while their leader yelled at them. He turned, and swam into a current that headed for the mainland.
After about an hour of swimming, he had exited the Bay of a Thousand Scales. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting over the mainland. He climbed out of the water, and hid on an island with a tiny cave just next to the ocean. He rested on a patch of seaweed, and closed his eyes. He kept playing the events of the day over in his mind.
Today had been a disaster, yes, but not a total one. A few glimmers of hope shined through. I’m alive, and better yet, I faked my death perfectly. Not only did I fall into the moat, Burn’s alliance attacked the Summer Palace. The little doubt that I survived should have been dispelled by that attack. On top of that, my position gives me the ability to return and inform Queen Blister of Anemone’s power at any time—so if the NightWings betray me, or the Talons are useless, I have a failsafe.
He felt the calm vibrations of the ocean calming his mind, and he felt sleep’s warm embrace take him. One thought pulsed through him as constant as an octopus’s propulsion. It’s not over. I’ll get back on the current to a throne. It’s not over. I’ll get back on the current to a throne…
Whirlpool awoke the next morning feeling as well as could be expected after the previous day. He groaned, opening his eyes slowly. When was the last time I had a meal? Lunch yesterday? I need to find some breakfast soon, or I’ll run out of energy. Even fish would be good enough, but I need seaweed too, to make some bandages. Once I get to the mainland the Talons can treat my wounds with more skill.
Whirlpool extended out his sore wings and legs, feeling the tendons and ligaments being stretched. Once he felt adequate, he dove into the ocean. He saw a large fish, and dove towards it. It tried to flee, but even with his injuries, he was still a peak predator.
Whirlpool grabbed its tail and killed it with a swift blow to the head. He swam to the surface and began to eat it. I’ve come a long way from dining on the finest calamari in the ocean, to eating commoner fish.
Whirlpool angrily muttered to himself, “It figures that after I spend almost a year teaching that awful dragonet how to hone her magic, spending time I’d rather be using for reading scrolls and making new copies, she’d use it against me and try to kill me. That’s gratitude in a clamshell.”
He looked up at the sky, remembering life at the Deep Palace. How swimming was like flying but better, because you could use your gills. How there were always dragons above you and below you, unlike on the ground. He thought of how the underwater food was so much tastier then the feathers up above. How there was always another mystery, another surprise. How he had explored the deep vents and anomalous lakes far below.
He hadn’t been the only explorer at the Royal School of Magic and Science, but the other explorers usually had various quirks. A few of the many oddities the others had were fear of kelp, paranoia, and obsession with small pink rocks. Whirlpool had had few friends, and fewer confidents.
Dragons of his level of intellect were exceptional even among the best schools for simply being too smart. While popular among those older than him for his flattery and intelligence, those his age had found him either painfully shy or very annoying, depending on what subject they were talking about.
Whirlpool glanced toward the mainland, estimating it would take about another day to swim there. “I’ve got to start talking to myself more to avoid going crazy, but if I do it too much, I’ll start saying both sides of a conversation with other dragons. I should also do random mathematical problems and trivia questions to keep my mind sharp.”
He stopped to bandage his burnt wingtips and his tail, which hurt the most. “The last thing I need right now is blood loss on top of everything else.”
He spared one more glare at the Kingdom of the Sea. It was a complex one, composed of both anger and sadness, but also some other emotions, ones harder to define. There was regret in his eyes, but also some loss and even a strange fear.
This is a place where I’ve never been. There could be anything out here. Troops keep coming back critically injured, if they come back at all. I’d better hope I can outsmart everyone I meet, or I will be dead soon. At least I’ve got my looks and charms. If necessary, I could convince the enemy to let me go for my sheer attractiveness.
Whirlpool dove back underwater, catching the current from before. He adjusted his body to maximize the hydrodynamics and almost doubled his speed. Coral outcroppings whipped by in a flash, fish only blurs.
He continued at this pace for a few hours, masterfully evading everyone who wasn’t there. Those he most hated he would quickly and efficiently eliminate with his imagination. He immersed himself in his emotions, thinking over who he hated most.
He hated Tsunami, as she had been awful to everyone during her short stay at the palace. He hated Scarlet, for battling Gill to the death, thus preventing there ever being more princesses. He hated Anemone, for using all he had ever taught her to attack and almost kill him. He hated Orca more than anyone else for building the animus statue which had cost him so many potential suitresses.
Whirlpool arrived at the mainland, and stretched his sore muscles. He took a look at the trees, mountains, and grass. It felt so alien. He spent one last sad, sad glance towards the sun setting down over the mainland. He lay down under a tree, reasonably concealed.
He thought back to all he had done during his short life, from his days in the best school in the kingdom to his ranking in the Council. All I’ve ever done… it was all for naught if I don’t become king. I owe that to her. I promised. I lost my first choice for my life, I won’t lose my second. Not as long as my gills yet draw water.
Part One: Nucleosynthesis
Chapter 01: The Hatching of a Genius
(Nine Years Ago)
Isopod and Hagfish looked at the dark-green egg resting in the hatchery. A few cracks were showing through, and they waited anxiously for it to hatch. Isopod looked at Hagfish and asked in Aquatic, What should we name him? It should be something subtle yet dangerous.
Hagfish looked back at her husband and said, What about Angler? It’s very dangerous but it looks simply odd, after all. Not to mention it’s related to my family name.
Isopod thought for a few moments. What if we name him after an aquatic phenomenon? How about Shorebreak or Surge?
Hagfish considered what Isopod said. Surge is too blaringly militant, and Shorebreak sounds too common. How about Whirlpool?
Isopod smiled. That’s perfect. A force striking without warning and completely unstoppable once one gets far enough in. Better yet, the name sounds quite innocent without sounding suspiciously innocent.
Hagfish nodded. Whirlpool it is. I hope he likes it.
Isopod said, I think he will. After all, with a scientist as his father and a spymaster as his mother, he would love a name so deceptive.
The dragons smiled at Whirlpool’s egg, which appeared almost ready to hatch. Hagfish said slowly, I think… he’ll accomplish deeds beyond what we can imagine. Whatever field he chooses, he will excel more than anyone alive. He has some of the most potent genes in the kingdom, and he’s of noble blood. He may even be king one day.
A few minutes went by with Isopod and Hagfish staring intently at Whirlpool’s egg. The cracks were now quite wide. A moment later, a cute little dark green hatchling poked his head out. He smiled eerily. He smiled the way a dragon smiles when he or she knows a secret that can be used against someone. It was truly unsettling to see an adult expression on a hatchling, especially one as adorable as he was.
Whirlpool sneezed, bubbles shooting out of his nose. He looked at his parents. A few flashes of light came out of his photophores. It didn’t mean anything coherent, but a rough translation would be Igubkigsody. Hagfish picked Whirlpool up and swam out of the hatchery, Isopod close behind.
Whirlpool poked his head out of the water. It had taken several minutes of coaxing from his parents to get him to start breathing air, but holding some fish pulp just out of the water did the trick. Whirlpool snapped up the fish in a few small gulps. He made an indecipherable happy sound and swam next to his mother.
Hagfish hugged him close. “You’re my little Whirlpool. You are going to be the most important SeaWing who isn’t of royal blood. You will do great things someday because you have the greatest gift. Not of blood, strength, or political power, but of intellect. Nothing cuts deeper or strikes faster than intellect. Not even magic.”
Whirlpool peered at his mother. He wasn’t old enough to understand what she said, but he felt the comfort of her words and the tone of kindness. He snuggled close against her side.
Chapter 02: The Shape of Things to Come
(Six Months Later)
Whirlpool gave his mother a mournful look. He asked her sadly, “Why can’t I play with the other dragonets? As much fun as learning is, I want to experiment in applied sociology, and I can’t do that until I meet some unexceptional dragons.”
Hagfish gave him a sad smile. “Anyone might try to kidnap or kill you, herring. Your father and I have many enemies, and we don’t want to put you in danger. It’s better you stay away from them until you graduate unarmed combat.”
Whirlpool sighed. “I know, but I just wish I had a friend. I’ve read about them, and they sound really amazing. They would be an invaluable asset.”
Hagfish paused, and said, “When you’re older. Once we enroll you in school, then you can have friends. They are rather useful under the right circumstances.”
Whirlpool nodded, and replied, “They seem to be. If I am correct, they are functionally an investment. You pour in resources initially, but can end up gaining a large profit. Additionally, your friend gains a large profit as well, so it is mutualistic. Rather like clownfish and anemones.”
Hagfish affectionately rubbed his dorsal webbed fin. “You’ll have friends soon enough, but right now it’s much safer if we keep you isolated from everyone. You can study with your father on hydrodynamics theory some more, if that would cheer you up.”
Whirlpool’s ears picked up at this, and he grinned. “Yay! I wonder if we’ll cover the flow of turbulent systems today. I’ve read about the topic, naturally, but that is one of Father’s areas of expertise! I can’t wait!”
Hagfish hugged her son tight. “I know, Whirlpool. You are going to be a great dragon one day, and your name will live in legend alongside the queens. You are a scientist at heart, and politics and espionage are just tools to help you. Never forget your goals now, for they can protect you from the corruption that infuses the royal courts.”
Whirlpool smiled in a carefree manner. “I know, Mother. I won’t let politics get the best of me.”
“So, Whirlpool, as you can see, as one increases the water flow on this wheel, it may reverse direction seemingly at random. However, there is a deeper principle at work, namely chaos theory.” Isopod was completely amazed at how well his six-month-old son was grasping concepts that had perplexed adults. He was, simply, a genius like no other alive.
Whirlpool peered deeply at the Lorenz wheel. “Perhaps a new method of graphing should be invented for such chaotic systems,” he suggested. “It would be very helpful for tracking its speed. Unfortunately, odds are we would have to have a new way to graph in three dimensions.”
Isopod beamed at Whirlpool. “That’s what I’ve been thinking for the past three years! Alas, my fellow scientists are currently more interested in cures for diseases than the underlying principles of the world.”
Whirlpool scowled. “Fools,” he muttered, “so worried about the ‘common good’ now without thinking of the big picture! It’s not that important if a few dragons die now, when this science could save many more later! It’s one thing for the commoners and bureaucrats to bother with the short term, but science should be above such petty concerns!”
Isopod gave Whirlpool a sad look. “I know, Whirlpool. But many of the other scientists are much more interested in their personal glory than the advancement of knowledge into new areas.”
Whirlpool looked angrily at the wall, thinking hard. “If I were king, I’d demote all the scientists who are just in the field for gain. Those who were both smart and inventive would get promotions, and they would be judged on merit, not popularity.”
Chapter 03: Assassins and Multiplication
(Six Months Later)
Whirlpool opened his eyes quickly. Today was the day! He’d finally get to go to school and meet dragons other than his parents! He wondered if any of them didn’t understand chaos theory, the science he’d worked out, but immediately dismissed the thought. After all, if he had invented it independently, surely even unintelligent dragons would have figured it out by pooling their knowledge.
Whirlpool slipped out of his kelp bed, and he smiled at his mother as he swam past her. He swam up to the surface and took a breath of air. He scanned the area for assassins or spies, and finding none, flew out of the water. He kept to the shadows and repeatedly glanced over his shoulder, checking for ninjas after him.
He knew perfectly well odds were they would be SeaWings or SandWings, and accordingly he’d packed SandWing antivenom cactus and had matched his photophores to the sunlight to prevent sneak attacks. He also checked for any magical animus weapons in pursuit of him. He knew animus dragons were rare, but you could never tell how powerful your enemies were.
Whirlpool ducked back into the water to throw off any pursuers. He saw the concealed entrance for the Summer Palace, and swam into it. It was just as it had been described to him. His dorsal spines brushed against the camouflage curtain. He didn’t stop to surface at any of the breathing holes, knowing that was where any air-breathing assassins would hide.
He emerged into the hidden Summer Palace of the Sea. He’d heard plenty about it, but actually seeing took his breath away from both his gills and lungs. He knew it had been designed by an animus and enchanted to grow, but it was one of the most elegant buildings he’d ever seen. The spires were ideal for weight distribution, and the water patterns allowed their SandWing allies to breathe while still keeping everything wet. It had obviously been constructed with both beauty and strength in mind.
While Whirlpool had been admiring the palace, he’d also been looking for assassins. His parents had told him to never let down his guard, and he had no intention to. He knew perfectly well that on average, 90% of dragons were enemy assassins hired to kill him perfectly. He also knew the remaining 10% were conniving politicians and scientists. He calculated his first moves in the educational facility. He’d have to quickly disable any enemies, on the off-chance one of the pupils was an ally.
He had just finished planning how to fight off the enemy when he reached the school. He furtively glanced over his shoulder, and rapidly dashed inside. As soon as he was inside, he ducked down, rolled, and sliced his talons upwards. For some reason, no one was there. He snarled, and leapt into the cover of darkness. They must be using camouflage, he realized. He considered his options. They have the advantage, better to pretend to be just a regular student until they strike. He snuck out of the shadows and took a seat with the “pupils” around the “teacher.”
The “teacher” smiled warmly, and she said in a cheerful voice, “Hello, my name is Stream. What’s your name?”
Whirlpool thought over it. If he gave a fake name, it might throw off the assassins, but she might also think he wasn’t in that class. He decided to say it very quietly and see who reacted. “I’m Whirlpool,” he said, very softly. The “students” hid their reactions very well.
"Stream" (if that was her real name) looked at her list of students. “Here you are! You have important parents, don’t you?”
Whirlpool had initially disliked her, now he knew for a fact she was an enemy. She obviously was exposing his heritage to stir up enemies even among the few who might not be assassins. Looks like I’ll have to fake a beneficial intention towards my enemies to shut down their operations. This day will seem very long.
Whirlpool shifted his eyes from “Stream” to the “students.” They were analyzing their quarry with interest. He gave them a due amount of suspicion, and he calmly circumnavigated the group, annihilating any weakness and reconstituting his strength. He tucked his wings against his side and lifted his heels up, ready to pounce. He turned, deliberately leaving an opening that was major enough any assassins would take the opportunity to attack, but not obvious enough it would seem like a trap.
He waited a full five seconds, and realized, to his shock, no one had moved more than giving him a “confused” look. He was completely befuddled. There were only two possibilities. Either the assassins were worried that they wouldn’t be able to kill all the witnesses, or they wanted to hold him for ransom and/or interrogate him. Looks like finding the enemy will be harder than I thought, but easier than I feared. He took a seat at the back of the class, so as to prevent attacks from behind.
A few of the “students” contacted each other in their clever code under the cover of comments such as “Hi!” A pale blue, slightly below average-sized male said, “’Sup, Whirl dawg? Name’s Vent.”
Whirlpool narrowly prevented any of his contempt for this pathetic excuse for a pupil from spilling out. Whirlpool extended his front talon and responded, “Greetings.” He shook claws with “Vent”, and then looked towards the front of the room.
“Stream” smiled at the class. “Alright then, if everyone’s settled, let’s start learning! You’re the Gifted Nobles class, which means we’ll skip the first year of what most of your friends are learning!” She handed out some scrolls to the “students”. Whirlpool scanned the material. It was hopelessly basic, even more so than algebra.
Whirlpool stated, “Stream, I have noticed this is the incorrect scroll. It is obviously the one distributed to the intellectually subnormal dragonets.”
“Stream” gave a nervous smile, and uncertainly asked, “What do you mean? It says at the top ‘How to Multiply’, right? Then it’s the right one! The… less smart dragons are learning adding.”
Whirlpool raised his brow. “Then the problem is not with the scroll, but the class. I strongly recommend I be transferred to a more engaging class than multiplying.”
“Stream’s” eyes started darting all over the class. “Alright, we’ll transfer you soon if you know our material. For today, why don’t you stay here? Even if you don’t learn anything, you’ll still make friends!”
Whirlpool had to concentrate very hard not to gag. If “Vent” was a typical advanced “student”, which was extremely unlikely but couldn’t be ruled out, friends were far overrated. Whirlpool decided he’d analyze the “students” for the remaining day and extrapolate their interactions to analyze the chain of command. When he had to fight off the assassins, it would help to target the leaders first. He managed to reply, “Duly noted and considered.”
“Stream” said, “Alright, well, multiplying is like a shortcut for adding. It makes it easier to write big addition problems.” She then drew on the chalkboard 2+2+2+2+2+2. “Now if we were adding, we’d just count up. With multiplying, we can kind of add up at once.” She then drew 2×6 on the board. “Now who can tell me what 2+2+2+2+2+2 is?”
Whirlpool knew the answer, of course, but he decided he was going to analyze the other “students’” intelligence. “Vent” raised his claw slowly, and answered uncertainly, “Twelve, right?”
“Stream” smiled at him. “Right, Vent! Now, with multiplication, that’s much faster and easier! Multiplying just means groups of another number. For example, what’s eight times seven?”
Almost all of the “students” looked completely confused. Whirlpool calmly raised his claw and stated, “56.” Many “students” gave him looks of bewilderment, but the teacher nodded. Following his calculation, most of the “students” seemed to be very impressed.
“Vent” grinned at Whirlpool. “Mega-awesome, Whirl. You’re the bomb.” Whirlpool contemplated whether “Vent’s” dialect and persona were a cover or he was just a fool. Meanwhile, “Vent” extended his claw in a position unfamiliar to Whirlpool, palm forward with talons up. Whirlpool, with his vast knowledge of societal norms, assumed he should match the position, and did so. He then retracted his claw.
“Stream” reacquired order and subsequently asked, “So, does everyone understand how Whirlpool got 56?” Nearly every “student” shook their heads, but a few inclined their heads, considering, and an electric-blue female in the front nodded vigorously.
The female stated, “I assume he just memorized his multiplication tables prior to this class like I did. That would be the most obvious explanation.”
“Stream” was acting very surprised. “You memorized your multiplication tables, Whirlpool? You too, Siphonophore? At your age?”
Whirlpool and “Siphonophore” both replied, “Of course!”
Whirlpool didn’t trust this “Siphonophore.” She was too smart, too insightful. Obviously the assassins were using her as a distraction while their NightWing mercenaries read his mind. He practiced the mind-shielding technique he’d learned. He remembered, Concentrate on one though, and block all others out. The derivative of x squared is 2x. The derivative of x squared is 2x. The derivative of x squared is 2x.
Once Whirlpool was confident he’d stopped the telepathic attacks, he searched the class for any reactions. The “students” pretended not to notice, although he saw their slight slouching posture and drooping eyebrows. They were obviously getting tired from the effort of maintaining their disguises. He ignored “Stream’s” words, automatically calculating the answer to all her questions. His real attention was in finding out which “students” were his enemies.
After a long period of time, “Stream” said happily, “Recess, everyone!” The “students” filed out of the classroom, speaking in their code of phrases such as “props” and “score.” Whirlpool was the last to exit. As he watched them frolic in the water, he thought, What are the purposes for these frivolous activities? Are they trying to look harmless, or is it to reposition to strike?
From the water, “Vent” said, “Want to hunt with us, Whirl?”
Whirlpool shook his head, and replied, “Sorry, I always hunt alone.” He didn’t add that he found the idea of any association with “Vent” to be a disgrace to both his family and him.
“Vent” shrugged. “Word, dude. We all have stuff we like.”
Whirlpool swam off, grateful to be able to avoid that pathetic aspiring socialite. He swam towards the edge of the Summer Palace, and dove down. A swordfish had blundered into the palace somehow, and Whirlpool slowly swam up behind it. When he was about half a length away, he dashed as fast as he could. He jabbed it in the back of the head, and it died quickly. He took it to the surface to eat.
It reminded him of how he had always lived on the brink of death. Anyone could kill him easily. The only prerequisite was not minding dying. For all the science, it was all for naught against certain poisons. For all the combat training, it was all for naught against fighters like Burn. No matter what he did, there were certain variables which could never be accounted for, no matter the skill. The greatest warriors in history had been known to die from problems as anticlimactic as tendon inflammation or liver failure.
At the surface, he ate neither slowly nor quickly. He noticed, to his suspicion, many of the "students" were swapping kills, even identical ones. No doubt part of their code.
He finished his meal, and silently observed the other students in a manner that was neither suspicious nor suspiciously innocent. He noticed that they were now "playing a game," according to what some of the members stated. It had no apparent purpose, although judging from the reactions of the members, it was enjoyable to them.
He kept watching them until "Stream" called for them to come back in. He noted a few more names being fired. “Hatchetfish,” “Tripod,” “Lancelet,” “Ink,” “Crag,” “Trout,” and “Sponge.” He mentally began compiling dossiers on their personalities, relationships, goals, likes, dislikes, allies, and enemies. He went out of his way to find everything he could possibly use against them. He tracked every word, movement, and expression of every student in the class so as to discover the chain of command.
Whirlpool extrapolated many relationships, including “Vent” actively disliked “Tripod,” and no one else. He learned that “Hatchetfish” and “Ink” were siblings and their skills complemented each others’. “Lancelet” was considered pretty. “Crag” loved combat. “Trout” had no defining personality traits, save a high intellect as the rest of them. Finally, “Sponge” was the only dragon who shared Whirlpool’s suspicion.
Once he had compiled all the dossiers, he pretended to be learning so as to obscure his intellect. After a short order of time, “Stream” said, “Alright, that’s it for today! Bye, everyone!” The “students” filed out again.
As Whirlpool was the last out once more, “Sponge” hung back. Whirlpool inclined his head at “Sponge” and inquired, “Do you have a request, Sponge?”
“Sponge” gave him a knowing look. “Dispense with the pleasantries, Whirlpool. I have information I want to share and you will be glad you know.”
Whirlpool had heard of this kind of dragon. He cleverly replied, “What would you like, Sponge?”
“Sponge” growled lowly, and muttered, “I don’t want your treasure, aristocrat. This is a matter of world security. I tell you, you spread the information around, lives are saved, maybe even yours.”
Whirlpool smiled, and said, “Very well, what’s the information?”
“Sponge” glanced around furtively, and whispered, “Not here. Too many spies. Outside the palace at the big rock.”
Whirlpool opened his mouth to accept, but before he could, a dart flew over his head and buried itself in “Sponge’s” snout. He screamed in pain, clawing at his face. Whirlpool dove behind a boulder, and thought frantically. What now? There’s a small chance “Sponge” survived. I should get him to a healer. Whirlpool dug into his supply bag and pulled out his sharp disk. He threw it towards where the dart had had to have come from.
He didn’t hear any cries of pain, but it probably bought him enough time. He jumped over the boulder, picked up “Sponge,” and ran towards the palace.
Chapter 04: Neurotoxins and Pressurization
Whirlpool saw several SeaWings peek their heads out at him from the cliffs and the palace, apparently confused by his rapid flight. He heard a dart fly over his head. He grabbed it with his free talon, knowing it would help him analyze whatever the assassin had injected into Sponge. It was certainly possible he or she had more than one poison, but that was unlikely, as it would only take a few darts to eliminate an average group.
Whirlpool ducked behind the palace structural supports, and silently scanned the nearby dragons. A few healers meandered around, obviously not expecting much worse than an angry bite. He quickly but quietly flew to them. “I have a matter of maximal urgency, medical operatives. This dragonet was poisoned and I am not sure what poison was used. It could even have come from another tribe. He needs a cure immediately, as he has information that is necessary for the kingdom.”
The healers looked at him as though he was a lunatic. He calculated, from the monographs he read on draconian sociology, they didn’t expect a young dragonet as him to be so mature. He glared at them, and asked, “Where do you keep the antidotes?”
The lead doctor, a cyan male, said, “We can’t cure him until we have a sample of the poison. So unless you have another, unbroken dart…” He trailed off in astonishment as Whirlpool handed him the dart the former had caught. “In that case, we’ll test it.” The healer led a few of his coworkers away to the lab. The rest remained and hooked Vent up to a few tubes of sugar water, to try to get whatever it was out of his system.
Whirlpool walked out of the building calmly, and proceeded to dive into the water. He decided to build a perch to attack the assassin when he or she came back. He hid in a small underground aqueduct that went under the palace. It had, from his knowledge of history, been built by Prince Albatross as a method of rapid transfer. The concept was to pressurize water in tubes to accelerate dragons to a speed far higher than even SkyWings could fly. However, Albatross had gone insane before it was finished, and it was deemed too difficult to do without an animus dragon. The project was abandoned and mostly forgotten.
However, the project had never been decommissioned completely and the tubes still existed, even if they had broken in some places. Whirlpool watched the dragons flying over the water; some swam beneath. None carried noticeable poisons, but that wasn’t saying much. For all he knew, even the healers could be in on the plot.
Whirlpool lurked underground for about an hour, waiting for the telltale vibration of water that came with a scream. He decided to check “Sponge’s” condition. He landed in the medical room, and saw “Sponge” lying on a bed. He was unconscious but breathing normally. He asked the nearest healer, “What poison was used? I need to know in case you are using the incorrect antidote.”
The healer said, “It was venom from a land plant commonly called deadly nightshade. We used another poison called the Calabar bean, which counters the poison.”
Whirlpool checked over “Sponge.” He seemed alright. “How long will he be in the hospital?” Whirlpool asked.
The healer answered, “Anywhere from a day to a week. He’ll survive, though.” Whirlpool decided that was good enough, and left. One thought bothered him, though.
There’s a fair chance the reason the assassin didn’t finish “Sponge” off was because I was his or her target. The best chance I have right now is to go home and have my parents switch on the booby traps. Whirlpool dove into the water, still searching for assassins. He swam out of the palace, and headed for the small island that was his parents’ home.
When he got there, Hagfish had an expression of anxiety. “What took you so long? Why didn’t you come home?”
Whirlpool answered, “I had to save an informant’s life and make sure he was not still in danger.”
She calmed down quickly, but her heart rate was still far above normal. She asked, “Who did you save?” Whirlpool considered the best way to respond. “A dragonet named Sponge,” he said.
Hagfish brightened at the news. “He’s the son of a well-known supporter of peace, and quite powerful! He’s probably in your debt!” At this, Whirlpool smiled.
Much calmer, Hagfish asked, “How was your first day, Whirlpool? Did you make any friends?”
Whirlpool shook his head. “No, most of the dragonets were annoying. Despite this, I met a fellow scholar named Siphonophore, and several incompetent frivolous dragonets. In particular, there was a socialite named Vent. He speaks in an unfamiliar dialect.”
Hagfish sighed. “Vent’s relatively well known. King Gill is his uncle. He has virtually no interest in the tasks of a noble.”
Whirlpool rolled his eyes. “Can I get transferred a few years up? You know it’s too easy, and the current teacher is completely pathetic.”
Hagfish gave a sad look, and said, “You should spend a couple days in a regular advanced class to analyze the competition and check for assassins.”
Whirlpool smiled as wide as was physically possible. “I already have! The odds are high more than half of the class is assassins. One assassin, I don’t know who, poisoned Sponge by dart. I easily could have been the target. Sponge will be unconscious for a day to a week. Regardless, do you have confirmation on the names of the dragonets in my class? I want to make sure they at least have disprovable alibis.”
Hagfish smiled back with pride, exalting, “That’s the way to think! Assuming the worst means you will always be ready for it! And yes, I think so. Siphonophore is definitely a real name; I believe she’s the daughter of one of your father’s coworkers. As I already said, so are Vent and Sponge. Your teacher is reasonably recognized; her name is real. The other students are completely unknown. Don’t trust them.”
Whirlpool nodded. “Of course, Mother. I won’t.” He went to his room, and looked over some of the many scrolls his family kept. Among them were classics such as The Tragedy of Orca, scientific guides like A Longitudinal Study of Scavenger Behavior, and secret pamphlets on deadly military secrets. He picked a scroll on the new field of “genetics,” and curled up to read. Perhaps Sponge really is his name, Whirlpool mused.
Chapter 05: Suspicion and Plots
Whirlpool woke up early, deciding he'd pack his extensive kit of antidotes. He didn't want to get poisoned like Sponge. He also would bring his modified spear and a few smoke bombs. I can't believe I forgot these yesterday. That was pathetic, on the level of stupidity to be expected from Vent. I won't be caught anywhere without them again.
Whirlpool went up to the cave mouth. His father was there. Isopod said, "We've talked about you skipping a year or two, and we decided you should spend a week with the dragons your age to analyze their skills and vulnerabilities. After that, we'll accelerate you to whatever your talent is, because we don't really know."
Hagfish added, "Of course, odds are at least one of your classmates will get accelerated at a comparable speed. There are some extremely potent minds in your class. Even besides you."
Whirlpool nodded, and asked, "What's the procedure if I suspect a classmate is an assassin?"
Hagfish smiled. "Just tell us. Don't tell your teacher or anyone else. But you can trust Ink more or less. She’s the daughter of an old colleague of mine."
Whirlpool gave his parents a hug, and flew into the ocean. He decided to take a secret route that, while longer, significantly reduced the amount of evasive action he would have to take. It was critical to not let anyone even get near to him. The odds of someone in his class dying before the week was up were near certain, and he was determined that someone would not be him. If he had to pick a classmate he would mind dying least, it would be Vent. He didn’t want Vent to die per se, but Vent’s death would be at most minimally regrettable.
Whirlpool swam up to the seaweed curtain. He swam through slowly, checking at every breathing hole for any assassins. Darts couldn’t easily travel through water, so a breathing hole was where a sniper would hide. He wasn’t trying to evade attackers like yesterday. Now he knew for a fact attackers were there, and he was trying to find them. He wouldn’t be caught off guard again.
Once inside the hidden palace, he noted one of his peers wanted to talk to him. It was the one named Ink. He calmly stated, “Hello, Ink. Define your purpose for initiating communication.”
She nodded, and said, “I think you already suspect why I am talking to you. I don’t know Sponge very well either, but I want to hunt down whoever attacked him. I know he is very secretive. He wasn’t quite my friend, but he was reasonably nice once you got past his suspicion and general contempt for treasure, political power, and all the other trappings of royal life.”
Whirlpool took note of this new information, and said, “Interesting. Did he have any enemies or rivals that would have benefited from his death? Anyone at all? A sibling, perhaps?”
Ink shook her head. “Not to my knowledge. My parents are both well-connected. Of course, it could be one of our parents who thought of him as a competitor and decided to eliminate him.”
Whirlpool responded, “Sensible, but he was attacked with a curable poison. That would either indicate the attacker was inexperienced, or, much more likely, they wanted the information he was passing along but they didn’t want me to know it.”
Ink asked, “He was trying to tell you something, then?”
Whirlpool quietly said, “Yes. It was critical information that could save lives, and he needed delivered to the right dragons. Judging from the poison used, the attacker wanted him to survive.”
Ink whispered, “This is under maximum classification level. I know for a fact there are secrets you have kept with your parents, and now this is one you must keep from them. I’m not even telling my brother, Hatchetfish. He might reveal it.”
Whirlpool nodded, concluding that whether or not he actually told his parents, it would be helpful for him if she didn’t think he would. That way, she’d be cultivated as an ally.
Ink smiled. “Then we understand each other. For Sponge’s sake, and presumably ours, we need to keep this secret.”
Whirlpool confirmed, “We understand each other.” He then went inside the school, this time in a manner closer to the norm but still defendable. He carefully watched everyone, and to his disgust, Vent brightened at him. Whirlpool took his seat, noticing the atmosphere was much more somber.
Stream walked to the front of the room sadly, and said, “One of our students, Sponge, was injured yesterday. He is in the healers’ care and might not be back in class for the rest of the week.”
Whirlpool corrected, “To remove any unclearness, this was not some exotic accident. He was targeted with a powerful poison, and narrowly survived, presumably under the intention of the aggressor. It is uncertain which of us, if any, is to be the next victim.” At this, many of his classmates gasped in shock.
Stream looked around as chaos erupted, and futilely said, “It was probably only a crazy dragon. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
Whirlpool jabbed a talon in her direction, and declared with undisguised rage, “That is talk to sooth the fools and the weak-willed. Lies such as those serve only to weaken defensive skills and prepare for sabotage. They have been used in the past during civil wars. Your usage of those deceptions either demonstrates your treason or incompetence.”
Stream looked frightened as Whirlpool tensed, ready for combat. “I-I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Can we sit down and talk with our inside voices?”
Whirlpool thought about it. He could always expose her later. “That will be acceptable, Stream.” He didn’t add he was busy trying to find a motive for her attacking Sponge.
She requested, “If everyone is ready, let’s talk about chemistry. It’s a science that, while new, is very promising. I don’t know that much, but more than most dragons.”
Whirlpool watched her try in vain to explain the simplest points of a science she didn’t understand herself. It would have been laughable save its patheticalness. He knew everything she was discussing, but decided he’d rather watch her suffer. That way, she’d be demoralized and more inclined to confess to attacking Sponge. Time to see if she knows anything more than she acted. It might not confirm her being behind it, but it would at least show she has not been transparent in her actions.
Whirlpool raised his claw, and asked innocently, “Could chemistry be used in warfare? Say, to make new poisons or incendiary weapons?”
Stream looked horrified. “Maybe, but no one would! War is one thing, but that would kill civilians by the thousands! No one, not even Burn, would use such awful weapons! Science shouldn’t enter war, for it’s too powerful. We should leave the battles to the soldiers, not the weapons of mass destruction.”
Whirlpool suppressed his amusement and disgust. It’s a war, you idiot. Would a general stop using a stronger formation because it might hurt civilians? Of course not. You should have quashed your sentiments, and then perhaps you wouldn’t have wasted your life stating your pathetic viewpoints to a class of dragonets who look down on you the way you might look down on a shrimp.
Stream said, “Anyway, when a reaction happens that can’t be undone, it’s called a chemical change.” She proceeded to state obvious facts of chemistry, which he doubted she had virtually any knowledge of besides what she was teaching.
After an interminable period of monotonous lecturing, Stream happily said, “Recess!” The students filed out. Whirlpool imperceptibly nodded to Ink, and she did the same. Once outside, he went to the corner of the kingdom. He scanned the palace again, looking for where the assassin could have escaped. He found a possible route on a high cliff.
There was a cave that connected to a breathing hole in the entrance tunnels. It was concealed well behind a break of foliage. He spent a few minutes looking for clues, and then discreetly swam to Siphonophore. “What do you think of the attack on Sponge?” Whirlpool asked somberly.
Siphonophore sadly said, “Whoever did it will almost certainly be found. Her Majesty herself is looking into it. In the meantime, my mom has been working on a new test. If the assassin left any blood behind, it can narrow the search. Did he or she?”
Whirlpool said, “Perhaps. I flung a bladed disk in the general direction, but I most likely missed. Regardless, I think this assassin will remain hidden unless we have the right bait. I have multiple possibilities under consideration.”
Siphonophore replied, looking past him at the palace, “There is the possibility you were a target as well, or even instead of Sponge. The dart flew over your head, after all.” Whirlpool felt his blood run cold in horrible realization.
I only talked about Sponge being poisoned, and how it couldn’t be an accident.
So how, when I never mentioned it, did Siphonophore know the dart flew over my head?
Chapter 06: Deceptory Deductions
Whirlpool considered exposing her there and then, but he decided to let the situation develop. He didn’t conclusively know she was the attacker; just she had more knowledge than she let on. It could still be anyone else. Even Vent was a suspect. His dialect might be a blind so that none would be suspicious of him. No one was innocent until proven to be. For all he knew, everyone else could have been in on it.
He didn’t extrude any of these calculations. He only said, “Naturally. It’s quite possible. I’ll remain aware of all threats.”
Siphonophore smirked. “They won’t catch anyone off guard now. By attacking Sponge, everyone is alert.”
Whirlpool barely stopped himself from gasping. The attack could have been to increase our mental acuity. If we are scared but not terrified, we’ll be smarter. Perhaps it was ordered by Queen Coral just to make us better future scholars and generals.
Whirlpool only confirmed, “Yes, we’ll be ready.” He dove into the water, and went near the bottom of the palace to clear his thoughts and alter the prioritization of the suspects. Without a doubt, Siphonophore was the primary suspect, with Stream secondary. Siphonophore would have poisons from her family’s lab. She was smart enough to flee after attacking initially. She could no doubt hide a dart gun in her supplies.
The only thing Siphonophore lacked was a motive. Perhaps she wanted to attack Whirlpool because she was no longer the most intelligent. Perhaps she was one of the pro-war radicals who were sworn enemies of the Talons and wanted to kidnap Sponge to find out what he knew. Perhaps she was actually a spy of Burn and wanted Whirlpool eliminated because he would be an obstruction to her data mining.
Whatever the reason, he’d watch her closely. If he could get his parents to agree, they’d hire a spy to follow her everywhere. If she was behind it, he’d know. Regardless of laws, regardless of ethics, he would solve this mystery.
Until then, he would play the part of a cunning genius unmatched by anyone. That way, no one would know anything was different. It might be difficult, but he would gain some answers by the end of the week from Sponge.
Now that he had finished his plan for the upcoming week, he swam to the surface and engaged in a “game,” as the other dragonets termed it. He exclaimed synthetically, “Yes. I am in a state of jubilation due to my rebounding of this oblate spheroid. It has increased the serotonin release in my cerebral cortex.”
Trout, Vent and Ink all stared at him, Ink signaling him with her eyes. He gave them a blank look, analyzing why they were treating him as though he had just turned into a NightWing. Trout asked, “Umm, what was that?” Whirlpool repeated his statement, but this time slower and more pronounced. Trout said, “I know what sounds you made, but I don’t know those words.”
Whirlpool sighed, incredulous at Trout’s lack of intelligence, and explained, “The word ‘yes’ implies agreement. The word ‘I’ is a pronoun referring to oneself. The word ‘am’ is a conjugated form of the word ‘is’. The word-“
At this, Trout said, “Actually, I know enough. Never mind, Whirlpool.”
Whirlpool observed Trout attempting to forestall a deluge of information. He decided if Trout didn’t want to learn, Whirlpool wouldn’t let him.
Vent said, “Whirl, how you liking school? Just asking, ‘cause we’re friends. We are friends, right?”
Whirlpool didn’t inform Vent that he utterly despised the latter. He didn’t state that he would rather befriend a RainWing. He also didn’t explain that his friendship wasn’t handed out like candy, but earned like command of an army. He only said, “It’s fun to be in school. And yes, of course we’re friends.”
Vent grinned. “Great!” He reenacted his gesture with talons up. Again, Whirlpool replicated him. Whirlpool swam off towards where Tripod had gone.
Tripod approached silently from behind, most likely testing Whirlpool’s skill. Whirlpool casually jabbed him at the base of the neck without looking, and he heard a groan of pain. He turned and jumped, as the naginata spun under his tail. He circled over the bladed staff.
Whirlpool stated, “Hello, Tripod. Practicing to be an assassin?” Tripod nodded, and retracted his polearm. He sheathed it and hid it in a wing.
Whirlpool apologized, “Sorry for jabbing you. I just wanted to sharpen your reflexes. But that’s not why I came here. I want your opinion on the attack.”
Tripod mused for a few moments, and then said, “It was well-planned. Someone was able to divert almost all witnesses. A poison was selected to be lethal but curable. Almost certainly was going to be a kidnapping, not a murder. Whoever attacked him will probably return to either finish him off or kidnap him. The guards should be tripled.” Noting Whirlpool’s impressed expression, he explained, “Being an aspiring assassin, I know how to fight another assassin.”
Whirlpool thanked him, and flew towards the classroom. He crept inside, and looked through the files. One caught his eye. It was a complete dossier on Sponge - everything from his favorite food to which scrolls he liked to read. It would be very useful to an assassin. He tucked it into his wing, and crept back outside. Stream called the class to order, and he walked inside with his classmates. He nodded imperceptibly to Tripod.
The teacher continued her pathetic explanations while Whirlpool just watched her. He looked for any reaction from her about losing the dossier. She didn’t give any, but that was to be expected. He waited for class to be over. Upon its closure, Whirlpool flew to the infirmary. Sponge was lying there, still unconscious. He requested more soldiers, as the sniper could still be around.
The soldiers flew in, obviously annoyed to have to guard a dragonet only a year old. Their state of mind was not Whirlpool’s concern, however, and he simply flew home. Along the way, he carefully avoided melee range with anyone, just in case.
When he got home, he said to Isopod, “I suspect one of my classmates, Siphonophore, is the attacker. She had knowledge of the attack beyond what she normally would have. Additionally, she has the means and may have a motive. It would be very helpful if you could have someone shadow her, just in case. Another suspect is my teacher. She might be faking being foolish and ignorant. A third possibility is another classmate named Tripod. He had extensive knowledge of the attack and experience in attacking. It would help if you tracked them.”
Isopod gave his son an amazed look. “Umm, alright. I don’t have the contacts, but I’ll ask your mother. How did you figure this out?”
Whirlpool simply said, “I only deduced logically. Anyone trained in the art could have, but few want to. I’ve noticed, to my shock, it’s much more common to want to live life in happy ignorance than to face truths seen as horrible.”
Isopod sighed, “Yes. It’s terrible, it’s pathetic, it’s pointless, but it’s true. Recognizing that lets you beat the system. Always see a system, your place in it, and how you can change your place in it.”
Whirlpool hugged his father, and retired to his bedroom. He read a few scrolls, and sketched out the plan. He would, allowing for variations in psychologies, manipulate everyone, his parents included. He didn’t particularly like doing so, but it would mean that the criminal could be found sooner. Also, it would help in case something like this ever happened again.
Time to see just who really did it, he thought to himself. Watch out, Whirlpool is on the case.
Chapter 07: Flashpoint
Whirlpool woke up abruptly, staring at the ceiling. It was hard, cold, and flat, much like his experience at school. The qualities of the personalities of his classmates were very unstable. He had spent a month on sociology, and he knew that a war could start at any point. Everyone was smart, rich, powerful, and strong. In essence, it was a recipe for disaster.
He had calculated a few more possibilities, including the Talons of Peace and the NightWings. If his theories were correct, the enemy would kidnap Sponge sooner or later. It was unlikely any guards would stop them, as he had deduced a way the enemy could infiltrate.
It involved a new substance he had noticed in his father’s lab, which, interestingly, his mother spent a while examining. Ether, he remembered. A few scientists had it, and Her Majesty feared Scarlet was developing or buying it. Rumors abounded the NightWings had planted the chemical. The discoverer had flatly denied this, claiming she had accidentally refined it from a little acetone and hydrogen peroxide she’d left overnight.
Whether or not her claims were true, the substance was a sedative that was not fatal, which was in line with the Talons of Peace’s philosophy. It also fit with the NightWing philosophy of mystique and unknowableness. It would be something Siphonophore would do to demonstrate her intellectual superiority. It was a classic test to find out if he would check for poison. In all actuality, it could be done by every suspect.
Whirlpool thought, I’ll need some special equipment. Really special equipment. I have to break into Father’s lab. The equipment in there was extremely dangerous and he had been told for his and his family’s safety never to go into it. Of course, he didn’t like this, but it would help everyone. Sometimes lies had to be made to help.
He thought over the means of execution. He’d have to get in and out quickly. He knew Isopod kept the lab locked as a precaution, but Hagfish had taught him how to pick locks without a trace. He knew that his parents were almost certainly asleep, as it was still very early. He crept down the hallway to the lab, next to his mother’s armory. He deftly slipped a small piece of metal from his pack into the lock, listening carefully. He heard a click, and twisted another piece. After a few more clicks, he opened the door. A few strong poisons lay around the room.
Whirlpool picked up a sedative, re-locked the door, and crept outside. He put it in his backpack, returned to his room, and pretended to wake up about half an hour later. He faked his normal routine, expecting anytime his parents to notify him he had betrayed their trust. They did no such thing.
Whirlpool left in a normal mode and acted standard. He went to school by yesterday’s route. Once inside, he crept over to Sponge. Sponge was breathing normally, but still unconscious. Whirlpool placed a vial of the sedative in a hidden area nearby. He then flew down to his classroom and walked in as the other students did.
He greeted his various classmates, and performed his procedure, but his intellect was focused on what was going on. The eye twitches of everyone in the room. The breathing rates. Every possible clue. Nothing evaded his notice.
After a while, he noticed Siphonophore wasn’t interested. While she was very smart and most likely knew the material, Stream was explaining some “new” information which most likely was ten years old. Nonetheless, Siphonophore was completely disconnected. Very, very suspicious.
Vent wasn’t very interested either, which, while superficially normal, was odd because he wasn’t trying to talk to any of the class either. Quite unlike him.
Tripod was listening with perhaps too much interest. Whirlpool suspected he was pretending, although he wasn’t certain. Would a royal assassin care about politics?
Stream seemed to be bored by her lecture. This was very out-of-character from her bubbly attitude earlier. Could she be concerned she’ll slip up?
Whirlpool had been stewing in his own dread for over an hour when a scream tore through the air and water. It was quickly followed by several more, and then there was nothing but total silence. A few awful second passed, and then the class erupted into chaos.
Whirlpool took the opportunity to stealthily leave, and noted that Siphonophore and Tripod were gone too. He flew up to look for where the screams had come from, and it seemed to be the healers’ area. His mother had taught him to use his intuition, and he had a very, very bad feeling.
He crept slowly down the halls, noting all the healers were unmoving. Dead or unconscious, and from this dragon’s style, probably the latter. I can wake them up later. Right now, I have to check if Sponge is still in there.
He saw, to his utter shock, Siphonophore was at the end of the hallway. Whirlpool dove behind an outcropping, horrified at the possibilities. She’s really behind it, he realized. Tripod was in on it. The whole palace really is out to get me!
He was almost fainting from horror as he reached with trembling talons into his small bag of weapons. He shuddered at the slightest sound he made. Everything seemed to be going wrong. This had started as a test, and now he could well die. He was counting on her to just take Sponge and leave, so he could tell the queen.
All of this was going horribly but consistently, when someone jumped on him, pinned him down, and injected him with something. He lost consciousness rapidly. His last thought was, They outsmarted me.
He awoke still on the floor, and to his shock, he wasn’t restrained. His vision was blurry. Two figures stood in front of him. Their words were indistinct. One was dark, the other light. He was drowsy, but not cripplingly so. He wondered what kind of attacker let their opponent lie free in front of them while still alive. His vision slowly cleared.
To his shock, the dragons were Tripod and Siphonophore, apparently checking if he was okay! Tripod said, “Sorry we dosed you, it was just a calming agent but you were already on the verge of passing out from shock.”
Siphonophore added, “And Tripod jumped on you because he was worried you’d do something extreme. Are you feeling better now?”
Whirlpool semi-agreed, and asked, “Are we too late?”
Siphonophore and Tripod sadly nodded. “Sponge was gone by the time we got here,” she said. “All the guards and healers are alive, but they were attacked in such a way it seems likely they won’t remember who did it. They were also given amnesiacs.”
Tripod mused over it. “Too expert. This was a master job, far better than I could have done. The odd part is not killing anyone. That would have made it much easier. Perhaps it’s the Talons?”
Whirlpool answered, “Likely but not certain. What if it’s a group who wants us to think it’s the Talons? That possibility must not be ruled out.”
Tripod and Siphonophore both raised their brows at that possibility. “I doubt it, but it could be true,” Siphonophore said dubiously.
Whirlpool realized something. I only have Tripod’s and Siphonophore’s words he was gone when they got here. No confirmation.
They still could have done it. I can’t share everything. Or even much of it.
Chapter 08: A Paroxysm of Foeship
Whirlpool kept up his façade of semicomprehension, but meanwhile his mind was overflowing with activity. His classmates hadn’t been personally responsible for his kidnapping, that was clear, but they could have hired someone else.
Everyone had a motive and the means. The task now was to rule out suspects. He muttered to Siphonophore and Tripod, “I’ll check outside for more clues,” and flew out. He thought he heard sighs of relief, but he wasn’t certain.
He landed inside the classroom as the teacher was trying to restore order, with virtually no success. Ink leaned over, undetectable in the pandemonium and whispered, “Someone left this.” She pointed to a small scroll, tucked under the table. It read:
To Whom It May Concern,
The attack on Sponge was awful, and the author of this scroll has confidential information on it. The author also has at least some of the information he tried to relay. To secure this information against the wrong claws, it is encrypted by an advanced method. The author believes he or she knows the identity of the attacker, if not the kidnapper.
VAPORIZED 2-7 4x8
AWWI AWMI 5T2O XBOJ IKIL GAIN F22M
I hope you can decipher the above.
Whirlpool looked carefully at the code. It was probably digraphic from the odd letter patterns, and from the phrase “advanced method.” It was likely very secured. He copied it down, and quietly said, “Interesting. I’ll try to crack it. I assume we will keep this between the two of us?”
Ink nodded, and whispered, “Definitely. We’re getting into deep water here, and this is going to get much worse before it gets better. Did you notice the disappearance of Siphonophore and Tripod? Very suspicious.”
Whirlpool said, “Good. This is a matter of safety to the entire kingdom now.” With that, he returned to his seat. Stream was still trying with almost no success to calm down the class. He went to work on cracking the message, certain it was essential to the entire mystery.
He tried various possibilities, but none made sense as a message. He memorized it and then shredded his copy. He’d work on it at home.
Someone was right behind him. Whirlpool calmly said, “I know you’re there.”
A quiet but sly male voice answered, “Hello, Whirlpool. I have urgent news. I suspect I know the identity of the attacker, and I want to inform you.” Whirlpool turned, and saw Hatchetfish behind him. He quietly smiled at Whirlpool, and continued, “I’m Ink’s brother, as you probably know. She’s been acting weirdly ever since what happened to Sponge. Staying up late and isolating herself in her room are just a few of the odd changes in behavior she's had. I’m worried she might be behind it, though I’m scared to accuse without enough evidence. Do you think you could help me, Whirlpool?”
Whirlpool considered. He’d promised to keep Ink’s secrets just that, but he was open to holding multiple dragons’ secrets. That way, when he figured out who did it, he could easily put everything together. He said, “Of course, Hatchetfish! What other information do you have?”
Hatchetfish whispered, “I am a scientist, not a spy. That’s Ink’s strong area. But I think she is hiding something. And she mentioned something about Plan K. Do you know anything of it?”
Whirlpool had heard the phrase a long time ago, but he wasn’t about to reveal that to the first dragon that asked. Or the thirtieth, for that matter. “Afraid not,” he said. “If I hear of it, I’ll tell you. Until then, thanks for the information.”
He decided to just watch the chaos in the room. Vent was still screaming about the Queen’s assassination, Trout was ranting that the IceWings had found them, and Crag was saying they should go fight. It was actually rather amusing. It didn’t matter how intelligent his peers were. They still acted like fools when a real threat occurred. He sighed at them, and waited.
After another hour or so, the teacher just sighed and said they were free to go. They shoaled out like herring. Whirlpool was last still, but he noticed Stream giving him a very strange look. He was very unsettled by the time he got home.
He recalled the secret message,
AWWI AWMI 5T2O XBOJ IKIL GAIN F22M, and went to work. It was advanced indeed, but he was confident he could solve it. First, though, he wanted to make sure he was alone. He put on a mask, and sprayed a mild irritant around. It wouldn’t kill or even injure anyone, but it hurt enough that virtually anyone in his room would cry out in pain.
To his satisfaction, no one did. He sat down, and got to work. It could just be monoalphabetic, but that was exceedingly unlikely. It was, he thought, most likely the Albatross cipher. Developed by the prince’s scientist friend Ctenophore, it was used in a war long ago to encode information between armies. Ctenophore had dedicated it to Albatross before his fall to evil. It had been known since then, but wasn’t exactly common knowledge. It was often used by the highest spies. His mother had taught it to him long ago.
He set up a 4x8 matrix, wrote the word “Vaporized” and then the rest of the alphabet. He finished with the numbers 2-7, as directed.
V A P O R I Z E
D B C F G H J K
L M N Q S T U W
X Y 2 3 4 5 6 7
He then read down the columns, and rearranged the matrix in that way.
V D L X A B M Y
P C N 2 O F Q 3
R G S 4 I H T 5
Z J U 6 E K W 7
Thinking it over, he began to decode. The first section read MEET. He continued, deciphering bit by bit. It took a medium amount of time, and he carefully checked every conversion. When he was finished, the message was clear. Meet me at the place he said. Whirlpool stood up, realizing what he had to do. He slunk out, slipping by his parents in their studies.
Once outside, he flew to the big rock. There was no one there, to his shock. He landed on it, searching for his contact. After a few minutes, a dragon landed opposite him. Whirlpool didn’t know this dragon, but he could tell he was powerful, if not physically, politically. He was much older than Whirlpool; in fact he looked like he could have dragonets of his own. He was a SeaWing, and he had black swirls on his scales. He smiled warmly, and asked, “Hello. You are Whirlpool, correct?”
Whirlpool said, “Correct. And you?”
The dragon said, “I’d prefer not to say. I’m wanted here, but you can know me as a friend and a Talon of Peace. I have worked to stop the war and save lives. I’d like to find out if you want to join the Talons.”
Whirlpool blinked. He answered, “Maybe. I want to save lives too, but I don’t want to be in a secret organization that I could be executed for being in.”
The dragon nodded. “A valid point. Maybe you could keep in touch without taking orders from us. You wouldn’t be a Talon, but you’d share our goals and we would see you as an ally.”
Whirlpool agreed, “I approve of this. I think we will operate well together. By the way, what are my parents’ affiliations with the Talons?”
The dragon said, “Your mother is friendly, in fact we broke her out of a MudWing prison once. Your father is neutral, simply because we haven’t had any contact with him.”
Whirlpool filed this information away for possible later use. He said, “What classified information do you have to relay to me?”
The Talon said, “There might be a strike against many of the queens soon. It would destabilize the world and start a global civil war. We have agents in most kingdoms ready to reveal this in a non-incriminating way. You’re covering the SeaWings, which only leaves the lazy RainWings and the NightWings. I doubt any NightWings would be unaware of it, what with their telepathy, and the RainWings aren’t important enough, so we’re good.”
Whirlpool thought about it. “And the attack on Sponge?”
The Talon hesitated. “That… might have been us,” he admitted. “We used a nonlethal poison so he wouldn’t die, and we didn’t kill any of the guards or healers either. It wasn’t us who kidnapped him, though. It was an experiment. We wanted to check your morality, skill, and countless other factors to find out how good of a Talon you’d make. You passed with flying colors. We didn’t want to take extreme measures, but honestly, we couldn’t take the risk of revealing ourselves to you if you would turn us in.”
Whirlpool gave the Talon a furious glare. “I might support saving lives, but I don’t operate like you do. I am definitely going to share your goals, but you can be sure my methods will be different. Goodbye.” With that, Whirlpool took to the sea, swimming quickly away. Once home, he developed an excuse to his parents, went to his room, and sat down in a rage. He had spent days trying to solve this mystery, and it was all a test! He sunk into his seaweed bed, barely able to keep himself from screaming.
After a while, he deduced that rage wouldn’t help him. He managed to calm himself down, and think.
There wasn’t conclusive evidence that that Talon agent was, in fact, from the Talons. He would have to check personally. He shouldn’t hate the Talons, for they were just trying to help everyone. And, finally, he didn’t want his parents to know what had happened.
As if thought had summoned them, Isopod and Hagfish came in. Whirlpool looked at them, careful to keep his face cheerful. To his shock, they were smiling. Hagfish said, “Well done, Whirlpool! I’m so proud!”
Isopod added, “You’re a lot like both of us. You’ve got your mother’s guile and my brains. I couldn’t have done that at seven, and you did it at one!”
Whirlpool asked innocently, “What did I do?”
Hagfish answered, “You broke into your father’s lab while we were asleep, and it took us the whole day to figure out! It was masterfully done!”
Whirlpool’s jaw dropped. “You’re happy I broke into Father’s lab?!”
Isopod said, “Of course! Why do you think we told you never to? We weren't expecting you to until you were at least three, which makes it even more amazing! The chemicals in there are dangerous, but if you are smart enough to break in, you are smart enough to be safe.”
Whirlpool hugged his parents, relishing the moment. He thought back to how the other dragonets had been playing on his second day of school. He realized he’d never been a normal dragonet. He’d been a weapon, a scientific tool. He was happy how he was, but now he knew what a normal family might be like. He would have grown up, spent his time catching fish and playing “games” with his parents instead of solving science problems. He wouldn’t have been trained in martial arts, but instead have learned the secrets of friendships.
He would have lived a life free of assassins, fear, and suspicion. To quote a scroll he once read, he would have lived a happy life of ignorance instead of a fearful life of knowledge. He was very, very glad he had been raised as he had. Because of that, he was ready for whatever the powers that be threw at him.
Time to finish this, he thought. It’s over, kidnapper. The world civil war will be stopped. We win.
Chapter 09: The Defending of a Paradigm
Whirlpool woke up efficiently, well-rested and prepared to win. He exited his room. He was fairly certain if the kidnapper showed his or her face, he would be able to recognize said dragon. He had read about applied psychology, and he wouldn’t be caught off-guard.
He peered outside, and looked at the sun rising over the sea. It was reflected and extended. The brilliant red light illuminated the countless islands of the Bay of a Thousand Scales. He gazed over the vista of untamed wilderness. The land dragons could tame the land, but they could never tame the ocean. It was too vast, too chaotic. It was chaotic enough an entire field of mathematics had been developed to try to understand it, partly by him.
He dove underwater, swimming quickly. He swam through the curtain again, noting that the first airhole was darker than was to be expected. A dragonet landed out of it, breathing hard. She said, “Good. We can talk here.” Whirlpool recognized that voice. It was Ink’s. She furtively whispered, “I have conclusive proof of who the attacker was. It was the Talons.”
Whirlpool confirmed, “Yes. Definitely. But the kidnapper? We still don’t know his or her identity.”
Ink said, “I might. I think it was someone in our class, most likely Tripod and/or Siphonophore. Obviously, they didn’t do it themselves, but they could have arranged for it. It could be anyone though.” Whirlpool noted her expression. She seemed distant somehow.
Could she be concerned her guilt will be exposed? Is she trying to frame someone else? From what Hatchetfish said, it seems likely… but there’s no way to be sure until we break out the torture devices, and we can’t do that until we have enough data for probable cause.
He faked a smile and said, “Don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll figure out soon. These things always get cleared up.” Inside, he was horrified. This really had reached a crisis. Everyone was now a suspect. The weak part of him wanted to curl up in a corner. The strong part of him was ready to snap a neck. The counterbalance resulted in him just swimming into the palace, conflicted, and he observing his classmates in a thunder over by the classroom.
Two in particular stood out. Tripod and Vent were locked in a staredown, and it was obvious it was only Tripod’s concealed naginata and his various other exotic blades that kept Vent from launching himself at Tripod. Tripod, for his part, had clearly only restrained himself because of the witnesses. Whirlpool landed next to Siphonophore. “What’s the situation?” he asked immediately.
Siphonophore explained, “Vent said Tripod was responsible for Sponge’s kidnapping. Tripod claimed that Vent had been planting false accusations to hide his own guilt. Then Vent announced that Tripod had been missing during the chaos. Tripod said that ‘declassifying state secrets’ could be punishable by death. It’s been nasty.”
Whirlpool thought over this data. It seemed odd. The two disliked each other for some reason, but this was more serious. He was nigh certain something was really wrong here, but he wasn’t sure what. He swam to the back, and noted something very wrong. There was a distinct alteration of the epitome of normality.
Trout was staring intently, completely focused on the actions of Vent and Tripod. A ghost of an expression graced his snout. Whirlpool asked him, faking ignorance, “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
Trout said, “Well, I just told Vent that Tripod and Siphonophore left and Tripod pinned you down, and he freaked out. Then Tripod freaked out even more.”
Whirlpool calculated. This is it, he realized. Trout was behind it. He just proved that. He wouldn’t have known that Tripod leaving was of any significance, and he definitely wouldn’t have known I was pinned down. Tripod and Siphonophore weren’t in on it because he wouldn’t want to sabotage his ally.
Whirlpool swam to the school, walked inside, and hid at the window. Trout glanced around suspiciously. He discreetly flew up to the level just under the throne room. He was carrying a small parcel.
Whirlpool made his exit, and flew to the level where Trout was. Trout was putting something down, and attaching something to something else. Whirlpool recognized the material. It was a simple explosive.
Trout placed it under the throne room. He looked around. Whirlpool took the opportunity to get closer. Once he was within range, he pounced on Trout. Trout fought back, but he was a futile opponent against Whirlpool’s trained expertise. Whirlpool kicked him in the stomach, and Trout barely bit back a scream. Whirlpool pressed a claw to his exposed neck. “Where is Sponge?” he asked in a low voice.
Trout growled, and said flatly, “I won’t talk. I’m doing this for the good of the tribe. My death doesn’t matter, as long as Coral is dead.”
Whirlpool asked, “Why? If your goal is Coral’s death, you had best convince me.”
Trout said, “The whole royal system is wrong. We should get rid of it completely. We need a better way to choose our leaders. I hear the RainWings change their queens regularly. But whether or not they do, we can’t have royalty anymore.”
Whirlpool pointed out, “Killing the queen won’t accomplish that. Someone will replace her. The only way to do it would be to make a real, well-argued case. It also might endanger innocent lives.”
Trout said, “No time. We can’t afford to do that. We need her dead today. It’s been planned for months, all over the world,”
Whirlpool pointed out, “If you kill the queen, you will reenact the crisis with the SandWings. It would make the war even worse.”
Trout flatly said, “No. We’ve planned this for too long; it now has its own inertia. It cannot be stopped. My death is irrelevant. The only relevant death is Coral’s.”
Whirlpool snarled in fury. Whatever organization had planned this were a bunch of psychotic idiots who would bring the world to the ground and undo everything since the Scorching! He pressed his claws harder against Trout’s neck. A few drops of blood appeared at their tips. He ordered, “At least tell me where Sponge is.”
Trout answered, “We dropped him off at the Talons. They are a lot like us, but they are too soft, too weak. We have to be able to kill to win.”
Whirlpool said, “I see your point. I don’t like it, but I will help you.” He helped Trout up, and when Trout wasn’t looking, Whirlpool pressed a vulnerable part of his neck base, and Trout lost consciousness.
Whirlpool picked him up, and flew up one level. Queen Coral and King Gill sat majestically before them. Whirlpool landed, gasping from the effort of carrying him all the way up here. He said, wheezing, “Your Majesties, I have found the kidnapper!”
Gill walked over, clearly amazed. He asked, “You did? At your age? You can’t be more than two, and you cracked a case our best detectives couldn’t!”
Coral added, “Who are your parents? They must be so proud!”
Gill said, “You’ll get a royal commendation, of course.”
Whirlpool was awestruck. He was actually meeting Queen Coral and King Gill! He’d read about them, and they were wonderful leaders! He bowed low, and said, in his best royal-worthy voice, “Thank you, Your Majesties. I hope you will not be too harsh on this dragonet; while he did attack some guards and healers and was planning to kill you, he didn’t kill anyone, nor did he do any lasting damage. In fact, he is only one year old.”
Gill said, “Agreed. He is only a dragonet, and the death penalty doesn’t extend to them for attempted murder. He will be imprisoned for a long time, though.” With this, Gill called down several soldiers to take the unconscious form of Trout.
Coral said, “You are noble for asking an enemy to be spared. You will be a fine dragon one day. What is your name?”
Whirlpool said, “I am Whirlpool. And one day, I will change the world.”
Coral said, “But first, we’ll get you a ceremony for your heroism, Whirlpool. You will be awarded the Medal of Fealty to the SeaWings. Without a doubt, you are the youngest to receive this award in well over a century.”
Whirlpool said, “Thank you, Your Majesty, but I actually don’t want to have a ceremony. I prefer not to be that well-known. I don’t want to lose my anonymity. Is that alright?”
Coral thought about it. “I don’t know. You are a hero, and don’t you want to be recognized for it?”
Whirlpool said, “I would, but it’s too dangerous. I have many enemies here. I’d rather just have a small ceremony, with only my family and Your Majesties, but only if that’s alright, of course.”
Coral was visibly impressed. “Not only are you brave, but you are brilliant, polite, handsome, and humble! You could be king one day, if any of our female eggs live to adulthood. Of course we can have a small ceremony!”
Whirlpool released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He said, “Thank you! You are far too kind. I had better go to class, but thank you for the honor of meeting you!”
Gill chuckled, and said, “You don’t have to go yet! It’s not as if you’d learn anything, with the kind of intelligence you have. Who are your parents?”
Whirlpool said, “Isopod and Hagfish.”
Coral gasped. “Hagfish is on the Council! She’s my Secrets and Spies dragon! You’re a noble!”
Gill added, “I know Isopod. He’s a respected scientist. That must be where you get your brains from!"
Whirlpool said, “Perhaps. Genetics is a fickle science, though. With less regard, I think I should head home. Thank you for everything!”
Coral said, “And thank you for saving our lives.”
Whirlpool flew home, smirking at the confused dragonets beneath him. He dove underwater into the tunnel, noting that Ink wasn’t there anymore.
He emerged from the water at his family’s island. He told them of the events, and he retired to his room to study. He wanted to review everything.
It had been a tough case, but he had cracked it. No one had beaten him. His intellect outmatched everyone’s. And this was valuable practice for his future life. One statement stuck in his mind like a shark biting on a seal.
“‘You could be king one day,’” he told himself. “Maybe science isn’t my only career. Maybe politics also hold interest for me. It’s time to really put this to the test. It’s time to become smarter, stronger, more cunning, more knowledgeable, more analytic, and more of every valuable trait. Time to get on the current to the throne.”
Chapter 10: Chivalry and Cunning
Queen Coral said, “For your loyalty, intelligence, and bravery, I bestow upon you the Medal of the Golden Snake.” She placed a large gold ring around Whirlpool’s neck. It was elegantly crafted, and very beautiful. It only just fit.
Whirlpool admired it. “Thank you, Your Majesties. I will do my utmost to wear it with honor.”
Isopod hugged him. “You’ve made us more proud than you could imagine, Whirlpool. You have done your queen, your tribe, and your ancestors all great favors by this. I personally cannot believe that you managed to figure out who did it.”
Hagfish added, “How did you, though? I was utterly baffled.”
Whirlpool said, “I just thought about it. Anyone could have done it, if they took the time to systematically analyze all the clues and assume the worst of everyone. By calculating every possible motive, one can achieve an impartial system of nonbiased extrapolation.”
King Gill said, “Well, however it was done, you are a master of crime-solving. Perhaps you will one day become a detective.” Whirlpool filed this away in his memory. He knew everything the royals said would be useful someday. He bowed low again.
Isopod said, deeply, “You could also go into science, of course. I feel that almost anything you do you would excel at, if you cared about it. Seldom have dragons had a superior intellect, and your potent combination of intellect, knowledge, and acumen is unprecedented.”
Whirlpool only said, “Thank you for your words of praise. There is one other issue I am interested in, however, and that is my education. I hope you all agree my classmates are not advanced enough to equal me, and I should be transferred to a somewhat difficult class. The question is by what method and how much I am to be advanced.”
Hagfish said, smiling in admiration, “Well, you’re amazingly smart. Would you like personal tutelage by a brilliant scholar? There is probably one or two of your fellow hyper-geniuses in your class, so you’d have a very small discussion group.”
Whirlpool quickly went through the class roster. The only equal that he knew was Siphonophore, and she was possibly implicated in the Sponge incident, as well as being the chief suspect other than Trout.
King Gill said, “Yes. A young dragoness named Siphonophore. She is extremely intelligent, and more literature-oriented than science-oriented. I think you would like her. Do you know her?”
Whirlpool said, “Yes. I think she’s very intelligent.” He didn’t add he trusted her less than he trusted his ability to start a romantic relationship, if he even wanted one.
Queen Coral said, “Then the only remaining decision is choosing the scholar. How about Chaetognath? He’s an excellent scholar and teacher.”
Isopod said, “I know him personally. I think you’ll like him, Whirlpool.”
Whirlpool smiled his best smile. “I’m sure I will.”
Whirlpool bowed to the queen once more, and took off. He landed just outside his old school. He said, “Goodbye. You will be missed.” But not by me, he didn’t add. He swam home with his parents. Once home, he carefully selected his best equipment for the next day. He wanted to make a good impression for his long-term teacher.
The next day, Whirlpool swam to the Deep Palace, bringing all his best equipment. He was very interested in this scientist who apparently was one of the brightest minds in the kingdom.
He stopped outside the throne room, and asked a guard in Aquatic, Where is Chaetognath? The guard swam away, and signaled for Whirlpool to follow. He stopped outside the palace. He pointed to a small house barely within Whirlpool’s vision range, far lower, on the side of an oceanic trench. Whirlpool swam over. It took over fifteen minutes to reach. Once he did, he knocked on the door.
No one opened the door. Whirlpool, annoyed, checked around the house, or lab, as it seemed. It was built near a hydrothermal vent, for reasons unknown. Whirlpool noted several exotic creatures near it. The door abruptly opened, and a dragon peered out. The dragon had a strange apparatus on his eyes, and his snout had metal covering a corroded scar. He said, in Aquatic, Who are you? Why are you here? State your business.
Whirlpool said, smiling, I’m Whirlpool. I’m one of your students.
The dragon said, I am Chaetognath, your teacher. Come in, Siphonophore is already here.
Whirlpool followed, nervous. The house looked nothing like any house he’d ever seen. It wasn’t even really a house. It was just a small, empty room. No one was inside. His instincts screamed it was a trap, but he decided to let this play out.
Chaetognath, if that was his real name, swam after him. “Chaetognath” clawed the wall, and something shifted. Whirlpool heard a kind of dull roar, and to his shock the floor opened up. It revealed a tunnel that went straight down before curving out of sight. Whirlpool said in Aquatic, A hidden entrance? That’s impressive.
“Chaetognath” said, The hydrothermal vents help keep dragons away. My reputation for rudeness and eccentricity does the rest. He gestured downward, and swam himself.
Whirlpool followed, and was surprised to find the tunnel went up after the turn. It opened into a much larger cavern, filled with exotic equipment, underwater scrolls, and a huge number of instruments which Whirlpool could only guess at. Siphonophore was there, and she waved to him. Hello, Whirlpool! Isn’t this place amazing?
Whirlpool responded, It certainly is. I wonder how Chaetognath built it?
Their teacher answered, I had help. This was commissioned by Coral as a kind of headquarters for the development of new technologies. She wanted the war won quickly. That was ten years ago.
Whirlpool noted this fact. So then what will we do? he asked.
Chaetognath said, Proceed with experiments. Our goal is to keep finding things out, and to train you two in an environment that is far superior to whatever pathetic education they were giving you. Suffice it to say that the odds are everything in here could kill you. I’ve pushed for standardizing education to match this, but it was decided that it was better to have a lot of idiots for continuing the war, rather than a few geniuses to quickly end it. I might support Her Majesty, but she is much too soft. We need to be selective in our genomes, and we have to pick out our best and have their genes be amplified.
Whirlpool noted the scientist picked up a strange instrument, and proceeded to aim it at the wall. He pressed a control on it, and a spear shot out rapidly, smashing into the wall. Chaetognath said, I do not like most other dragons. If either of you die, I will state that it will not be my fault. I have never taken a student before, so I will teach you everything I know to prepare for the possibility of my death.
Whirlpool was very, very excited. He knew this would be an extremely fun class. He’d get to risk his life with one of the smartest dragons in the world.
Part Two: Autocatalytic
Chapter 11: Coöperation
(Six Months Later)
Whirlpool and Siphonophore had settled reasonably well into the eccentric scientist’s mode of operation. A premium was placed on intelligence, inventiveness, and innovation. What was disregarded included popularity, softening, and sociability. Siphonophore had developed a talent for poisoning and chemistry, while Whirlpool found that he was better at physics. They still both dealt with everything, but they were slowly specializing.
The two had become friendly acquaintances, if not friends during this time. Whirlpool had been introduced to the novel idea of reading fictional scrolls, and had quickly come to love doing so. He had read almost the entire collection written by the queen.
Chaetognath had remained mostly mysterious. He was nice once you got to know him, however. Whirlpool found him far superior to Stream.
Whirlpool had concluded that he was far more fitted to this class. He had introspected on his life, and he had solidified his goals and aspirations. He was going to become a scientist, and becoming king was just another possibility.
After all, a king could be a scientist. While he liked the idea of having authority to conduct virtually all experiments he wanted, he wasn’t sure he wanted to have to deal with dragons always asking him for authorization and approval and whatever else kings were expected to give. Whirlpool had considered applying for a Council position when he came of age, but that was equivalent to royalty with less authority.
Whirlpool’s personality, to his knowledge, had remained roughly as constant as the sine function. While it varied, it did not exceed certain parameters. He didn’t seek popularity, friendship, or acceptance.
He might not be as constant as a scalar, but he was still Whirlpool.
Chapter 12: Laboratorian
(Six Months Later)
Whirlpool carefully handled the vial of the unrefined ore. It contained a new element, and Chaetognath wanted to purify it enough to identify it. He had stressed the importance of carefulness in the chemistry area, giving his own chemical burn as an example.
Across the lab, Siphonophore was feeding the electric eels. Chaetognath kept them for an experimental “synthetic lightning” weapon that was possible in theory but very difficult to make practical.
As Whirlpool lowered the vial, he attached it to the tube. He poured in into the smelting chamber. He placed the heat shield over it and pulled the chain under it, opening it to the heat of the magma beneath. He peered at the piece of waterproof scroll and noted a new spectrum line. It would have to be confirmed later, but the odds seemed good this was indeed a new element.
He closed up the passage to the magma again. Siphonophore asked, How did it go? Did you find a new element?
Whirlpool said, I think so. It‘ll have to be confirmed, but I haven’t seen those lines before.
Siphonophore nodded, appearing interested. She said, The eels are working fine, but the method of delivery is difficult at best and prohibitively impractical at worst. It could be made, but there would most likely be no point to making it.
Whirlpool swam over to the hazmat area. He noted that a new dangerous substance was there, presumably bought. It was labeled, “Fluoroantimonic acid—4 0 3 W,” which meant it acted lethal by short exposure, inflammable, and exploded around water. He remembered it apparently had a power of hydrogen of negative twenty-five. It was too dangerous to be used for assassination, but it could be an excellent weapon to devastate a palace.
Whirlpool didn’t so much as touch the container it was in. He had a suspicion it was a NightWing invention, but Chaetognath wasn’t prone to sharing where he got his substances. Whirlpool hypothesized even he didn’t know; mutual lack of questioning was a common procedure in the espionage field.
Whirlpool reached over to a much safer container of pure sodium. He attached a string to its opening, swam to the testing cave, and threw the vial. The string pulled off the cap, and the sodium fell into the water. He ducked behind a shield, and after a few moments felt more than heard an explosion. It had destroyed part of the floor.
Whirlpool swam over to the physics cave. It was set up to look for “radioactivity,” which was a dangerous invisible kind of poison.
He looked into one of the microscopes, trying to see if it detected anything. To his disappointment, it didn’t. He thought to himself, Maybe next time.
Chaetognath was in his one of his secret labs, which apparently had over thirty entrances, leaving aside as-yet-unknown ones. He knew the possibility of a break-in was distinct, and so had at least one secret lab. Siphonophore thought he had over ten, with at least three entrances each.
From what he had told them, the secret labs were where he kept the extremely dangerous substances. If fluoroantimonic acid was in the main lab, Whirlpool had no idea what he kept hidden. Whatever it was, it had to be extremely dangerous.
Whirlpool had finished his experiments for the day, so he swam up and out the tunnel. Siphonophore followed shortly. Once outside, he pointed to the surface, and flashed, Let’s talk up there. She nodded, and swam upwards along with him.
A storm was overhead, the rain was pouring, the wind was howling, the ocean was churned to froth, and bolts of lightning threw it into contrast.
At the surface, he said, with auditory vibrations as opposed to bioluminescence, “There’s something I’ve been considering telling you. Remember the attack on Sponge?”
She said, “Of course. It was so awful! What do you know about it? I remember they figured out Trout did it. I have no idea how they did that.”
Whirlpool said, “To be completely honest and precise, I did it. It was I who figured out that he was the kidnapper. However—and this is a top-secret fact—he wasn’t the attacker. That was the Talons of Peace. They attacked their own agent to test our class, and they decided I could be a Talon. I turned them down partially, but I share many of their goals.”
Siphonophore’s mouth’s angle had gotten progressively larger, and now it was almost right. She, after a few decimal seconds of stunned silence, asked, “Wh-how-but-n—he-what!?” She took a deep breath, and amended, “What? You are associated with the Talons? You figured out who did it?”
Whirlpool nodded, and said, “Yes, I did. The queen kept it quiet to protect me. I told you because I’ve spent nearly a year analyzing you. Now I have told you some of the most important secrets of the kingdom.”
Siphonophore said, “Don’t worry. I’ll keep your secrets."
Chapter 13: A Regular Dragon
Whirlpool swam towards home. He noticed a dragon watching the sky. He swam over. It was a one-year-old, and he was clearly thinking carefully. Whirlpool said, “Hello. What is your name?”
The dragon said, “I’m Riptide. How about you?”
Whirlpool answered, carefully lengthening and enunciating his words so the yearling could understand him, said, “My name is Whirlpool. I am a noble, a scholar, and a scientist-in-training.”
Riptide gave him an interested look. “I’m Riptide. I’m a commoner. My father is a soldier. My mother is in kitchen duty.”
Whirlpool noted these facts, and continued, “What are you doing out here?”
Riptide just said, “Watching the clouds. It might be raining, but rain helps me think.”
Whirlpool recorded all of this data for later purposes. He asked, still in his slow, oscillating voice, “What are your primary talents?”
Riptide shrugged. He said, “Not much. I’m just a regular dragon. I’m better at math then writing and Aquatic, but I’m not especially good at anything. Why?”
Whirlpool’s interest levels greatly increased. If this dragon lacks any remarkable qualities, he must live a much, much more boring life! I need to know him better so I can decide how much to pity him and how much of my time I should devote to improving the commoners. He said, “Just attempting to increase my knowledge. So then what do you do for fun?”
Riptide shrugged. “The normal things. Playing, talking with friends, things like that.”
Whirlpool just barely managed to keep in his disbelief. That’s what commoners do for fun? Not experiment, spy, or read? They truly live sad lives. And the worst part is they don’t even know it. They seem to think it’s normal and interesting to “play.” Playing serves no purpose but to keep the commoners fools. He lied, “That makes sense.”
Riptide asked, “And you? Why do you talk like that? What do you do for fun?”
Whirlpool weighed the reasons for lying and not lying. He decided on censored truth. He said, “I talk like this because it helps dragons understand me. I read science scrolls for fun, among other things. I also work on certain projects, but you’d probably find them uninteresting.”
Riptide gave him a confused look. “Read about for fun? Reading is boring. Why do you like it?”
Whirlpool fought back a wave of fury. This—dragon—had dared to insult reading. It was only through two months of diplomacy training that he managed to not attack Riptide then and there. He focused, buried his rage, and said, “It’s most certainly not boring! It’s a method of extracting distilled knowledge, and knowledge is power!”
Riptide laughed. “Fun? It’s definitely not! And science is even more boring!”
Whirlpool’s vision clouded with red. No one could insult science. No one.
Whirlpool decided he’d remember Riptide’s name. It seemed he had found an enemy outside of combat. A political enemy, someone he could hold a grudge against for years and use his power to oppose. He said, “You are entitled to your opinion.” Whirlpool didn’t add that Riptide was only entitled to his opinion if it was one he liked. He dove back underwater, and arrived home, still furious.
Riptide is so awful. How can anyone both insult science and reading? Well, he won't even matter in the long run. Not after I go fulfill my dreams. Who cares what a pathetic commoner thinks anyway?
Chapter 14: Posita Amicitia
(A Few Weeks Later)
Whirlpool had, to his relief, not been exposed. Perhaps he was too suspicious of Siphonophore. She was a fellow genius, and perhaps she should receive his trust. While his instinct recommended him to not give it to her, they had been faulty in the past all of twice, and both times were at the incident with Sponge.
He decided he would let it play out. He didn’t have school today—his parents had decided he’d go to a three-day workshop where he’d be trained to be a better liar—and he was going to check on his classmates.
He swam inside the Summer Palace, noting that it was far less comfortable than the trenches. He saw Vent. Vent had grown some, but he was still somewhat small for his age. He flashed in Aquatic, Hello, Vent. The time has been long before my retinas have been impacted with your reflected photons. How are you?
Vent, laughing, replied in Aquatic, I don’t speak much Aquatic.
Whirlpool felt his old anger at his foolish classmate returning, but he stemmed it like a diverted tide. He said, in Standard Draconic this time, “Hello, Vent. How are you?”
Vent said, “I’m awesome, Whirl! I think Lancelet might have a crush on me; I’m still not sure what happened to Trout, and I’m Stream’s favorite student! We get to hunt and play all the time, and it’s really fun!”
Whirlpool analyzed him. From the scrolls on modern dragonet lexicon he had read, a “crush” referred to a romantic interest, but not especially serious. Whirlpool snorted in a mix of amusement and disgust. He could not understand why that was interesting. Romance was far overrated. It would be completely fair to say that the only point to love was perpetuation of the tribe, and dragonets were biologically too young to reproduce.
Whirlpool didn’t let any of this condescension show. He remained constant, analyzing Vent. Vent kept babbling about the boring lives of the semi-gifted students, like a small brook moving so little water no one paid it any mind. At least it wasn’t as bad as Riptide’s life. Whirlpool gave a small shudder, but luckily it was at a time when Vent seemed to be expecting one.
Vent said, “But enough about me. How has your life been? Have you done science? Are you a spy? Hatchetfish has sworn on his honor you invented a new superweapon and were sent into the Sky Kingdom to plant destabilizing secrets to bring down Queen Scarlet!”
Whirlpool considered his options. If he confirmed it, he’d get great notoriety and respect, but also suspicion. Either way, someone will suspect it. Perhaps I can answer it in a mysterious way, a way that makes the dragonets in awe but the adults just laugh. He said, “If I say yes, you’ll believe me. If I say no, you won’t. No matter what, you will think I did. So I’m not going to answer that.”
Vent’s eyes were wider than Whirlpool had ever seen before. “Wow…” he said faintly. Whirlpool felt a sudden surge of pleasure at shocking Vent into silence, a feat prior only known by unconsciousness.
Whirlpool continued, “And as for science, I’m making progress.”
Vent’s typical grin returned. “I knew you were really smart! What kind of science?”
Whirlpool said, “I’d tell you, but my mother would probably kill you. Sorry, but it’s too risky.”
Vent sighed. “Awww, okay. At least I know you are doing it!”
Whirlpool calculated intensely. He knew Vent had been a fool, and it seemed a year of experience had only taught him more efficient methods of being one. It was quite a disappointment. Not that he had been expecting anything out of Vent, of course.
Whirlpool said, “Goodbye, Vent. I hope to see you soon.” On a geologic time scale, that is, he didn’t add.
Whirlpool swam over. Ink and Sponge were talking. Sponge was still glancing over his shoulder. He said to Ink, “I know, but we still should ban those weapons. They’re just too risky and destructive. It wouldn’t win the war; it would just cause mass loss of life.”
Ink replied, “On their part, yes. It would save countless lives on our side, and it is the duty of a queen to use any weapons necessary for her people.”
Sponge was about to reply, but then he noticed Whirlpool. “Hello, Whirlpool,” he said distantly. “How are you?”
Whirlpool answered, synthesizing a smile, “I am fine. And you?”
Ink said, smiling genuinely, “That’s wonderful! It’s been a long time since we saw you! Where did you go? The school rumor machine is running at full power. My brother has some pretty exotic ideas about you.”
Whirlpool said, “It has been too many seconds, indeed. I went to a private tutelage, where I could conduct scientific experiments.”
Sponge added, “Since the investigation, Ink and I have become close friends.” He gave a rare smile.
Whirlpool thought back to something Hatchetfish had said. He asked, “Why did you withdrawal after Sponge was kidnapped?”
Ink averted her eyes. She said, “I was worried about him. I didn’t know he would be alright. I acted oddly because I was so fearful.”
Whirlpool took note of this interesting data. Sponge added, “It was very nice of her.”
Whirlpool bid them goodbye, and swam to his workshop.
Chapter 15: A Meeting
(One Year Later)
Whirlpool was ready.
He had been informed that one of his friends had something important to tell him.
And he wasn’t one to give up opportunities.
It was one of Chaetognath’s “off days,” when he did an experiment so exotic, secret, or dangerous he didn’t have his two assistants come. Whirlpool was looking forward to doing enjoyable activities.
He swam up, surfacing on a tiny outcropping of rock. The sun was shining brightly, the seabirds were screeching as they hunted their prey. Sponge sat there, still slightly uneasy from the incident over two years ago. He said, “Hi, Whirlpool. How are you?”
Whirlpool said, honestly, “I’m great. It’s a wonderful day. And you?”
Sponge said, “I think I noticed something about your friend Siphonophore. She’s been acting rather oddly recently. I think something might be wrong with her. You should ask her.”
Whirlpool noted this information. “I wonder what the cause could be,” he stated. He decided to find out. He bid Sponge farewell, and swam back underwater.
The darkness and lightness, which once before he had feared, now comforted him. He felt wonder rather than terror when encountering new things. He swam down, and saw Siphonophore ahead. He asked her, Hello, Siphonophore! How are you?
She looked at him in an odd way. Hello, Whirlpool, she replied. I’m fine. She had an expression which suggested otherwise, though. Whirlpool stared intently at her, unable to decipher her meaning.
Alright, if you say so, he said. He gestured upward and said, Let’s talk up there, he suggested. It would be easier. She nodded, and he swam to the surface. She followed him closely. He stuck his head out of the water, and smiled genuinely at her. She returned the smile, but she oddly avoided his eyes. Two years ago, he would have calculated this as suspicious, but now he had come to trust her wholeheartedly.
She said, still oddly avoiding his eyes, “So… I have something to tell you, Whirlpool. Something really important.” Her snout-stripes were lighting up chaotically, and her wings were shifting uncertainly. “I’m not really sure how to put it, though.”
Whirlpool thought back to his knowledge of psychology. From what he knew, these were all warning signs of friendship. He said, “I think I know what it is, but I’m not sure how to put it either, so I’ll just be direct. It goes against my nature, but extreme situations require extreme solutions.” He took a deep breath, and said, “We are most likely friends, right? Did I judge you correctly?”
She exhaled. “I worried I was just being delusional! So we are friends! It’s an exhilarating feeling to have you as a friend!”
Whirlpool felt a strange warmth in his chest. So this is what it’s like to have a friend. After all these years, I finally understand. It’s like sunbathing on the inside. I didn’t know what I was missing. A friend! It’s like an ally who is on your side not for power but because of personal opinion! It has got to be one of the best things one could have! I wish I’d had one before!
Whirlpool grinned from horn to horn. “It is! I’ve never had a friend before! I didn’t know what having one meant! It’s so wonderful a feeling!” He could feel blood rushing to his head and various chemicals inundating his brain. He thought back to a scroll he had read recently, and asked, “Do you want to discuss the newly-released revised and author’s notes version of The Tragedy of Orca? It’s amazing. It really explains what Her Majesty was thinking about when she wrote it.”
Siphonophore replicated his grin. “Of course I would! I just finished it this morning! Where can we discuss it?”
Whirlpool thought about all the possibilities. “How about the Summer Palace?” he said. “It has a wonderful library!”
Siphonophore nodded. “That works great! Let’s go!”
Whirlpool dove underwater and swam towards the Summer Palace, comfortable in the knowledge that he’d nigh certainly be safe. Siphonophore followed him, and he flashed to her in Aquatic, Come on! Don’t be a slowpoke, even if your namesake is!
Siphonophore flashed back, The only slow thing here is your quipping, Whirly. Race you! Whirlpool grinned, and swam faster. Siphonophore beat her tail quickly, and she outstripped him by a good deal. He snorted bubbles in astonishment.
She reached the Summer Palace far ahead of him. “No fair,” he playfully argued. “You’re a female! You have stronger muscles and better endurance! That’s almost as ridiculous as a yearling racing a two-year-old!”
Siphonophore smirked. “I’m afraid I can’t help it if I’m that awesome,” she jokingly bragged.
Whirlpool remembered something interesting. She’d called him “Whirly.” He wasn’t sure why she had done that. It vaguely reminded him of when Vent had called him various terms such as “Whirl dawg.” It seemed to only be an idiosyncrasy used between friends.
Regardless, racing Siphonophore had been a most enjoyable experience. He said, “So, let’s go to the library!” He moved to go, but he saw another dragonet up ahead. Crag, he recalled. He hadn’t known her well, but he knew she was militant and aggressive. To prevent a problem, he said to her, “Hello, Crag.”
She gave a cruel smirk. “Well, what do we have here? Looks like it’s our lovebirds Whirlfool and Siphonobore, back from their high and mighty secret school.”
Whirlpool calculated everything from the distance from his claw to Crag’s face to what her intelligence quotient was. He estimated she only just qualified the gifted level at 130. I’ve faced down assassins, a mindless brute won’t even elevate my heart rate. He smiled creepily, and said, in a slow, oozing voice, “Before you continue insulting us, there is something you didn’t take into account. Despite your physical and tactical prowess, you don’t know the secrets we do. I advise you not to further bother us.”
She snarled, “Why should I believe you? You don’t have any evidence.”
Whirlpool arranged his wings in an imperious manner, and asked, “Are you really willing to risk being wrong? It seems too dangerous, especially when it’s two on one.”
Crag narrowed her eyes. “You’re just a wimpy boy. I’m not scared of you.”
Whirlpool observed forebodingly, “There are far deadlier things than brute force. Are you that confident in your own talons?”
Crag growled, and then stomped off. She was clearly furious about being out-argued by a boy.
Siphonophore said, “Well played, Whirlpool! High five!” She recreated that claw maneuver used by Vent so long ago: talons up, palm forward, and arm straight. He copied her motion, and she grinned again.
Whirlpool gestured towards the library, and he lifted off. She did the same, and they landed just inside it. Other dragons were reading various scrolls, and there was nothing less than a full discussion group dedicated to the new edition of The Tragedy of Orca.
Whirlpool and Siphonophore walked over to it, and entered the conversation. They debated various concepts and points well into the afternoon.
Chapter 16: An Audience
(Several weeks later)
Whirlpool and Siphonophore had made a great deal of progress on their respective experiments since they had begun, and the data transfer they had commenced had had great repercussions for their respective technological skills. They had been successful enough Whirlpool decided to inform Chaetognath of what they had accomplished.
Whirlpool swam away from the dead animal he was examining, and knocked on one of the entrances to one of Chaetognath’s secret labs. Nothing happened, so he knocked again. He knocked a third time, now someone confused. He felt for one of the hidden levers and pulled it, gently but firmly. The door slid open, and Whirlpool swam inside, somewhat uneasy. He looked inside. No one was there. He examined the room. There was no sign of a struggle.
Whirlpool decided to just check in the other secret labs before he became too alarmed. The first one didn’t have Chaetognath. The second one wouldn’t open at all. Whirlpool pushed as hard as he could, and finally it opened. Chaetognath was hunched over a corner, using some exotic device that Whirlpool didn’t recognize at all. He swam over, and tapped Chaetognath on the dorsal fin.
Chaetognath looked around frantically, finally seeing Whirlpool. He flared his wings in shock, and said, What are you doing here, Whirlpool? This is top-secret! I thought I told you not to come in my secret labs! Don’t you know the queen has decided knowing some of the secrets hidden here are worth killing to protect?
Whirlpool flashed back, Sorry, Chaetognath. I was just worried about you. He calculated he should use some reverse psychology, and stated, But if you don’t want me to come in here, I guess I can’t show you the amazing breakthroughs Siphonophore and I made. I’ll just get back to work, and risk losing the possibly irreproducible results because I don’t want to disturb you from whatever secrets you are holding here.
Chaetognath’s pupils dilated. He said, clearly disturbed, Of course it is more important to show me those results! Quickly, to the main lab before they destabilize! He shot out of his secret lab, virtually dragging Whirlpool. Whirlpool stared at his teacher. He had never seen his teacher so excited.
Chaetognath swam around like a dragonet on his hatching day. He exclaimed, Oh moons, we finally did it! I cannot believe it! The queen will be thrilled! You will become renowned scholars, and it will increase my prestige among my fellow scientists to have tutored you two! This is a great day for my personal pride, for your future, and far more importantly, for science!
Whirlpool felt a smile invade his face. He said, grinning, What does it mean?
Chaetognath explained, It means we have a functional bioweapon. This will revolutionize warfare!
Whirlpool didn’t really like the idea of their weapon being used to kill lots of dragons, but he couldn’t do much about it. Let’s go tell Her Majesty! he suggested. He flashed to Siphonophore, Come on! We’re going to the palace!
Chaetognath, still grinning, swam up and out of the lab. Whirlpool and Siphonophore followed him. Chaetognath turned and exited the trench. They headed towards the palace. Guards flashed expressions of disbelief at Chaetognath’s appearance, from his stitched-on metal synthetic scale to his didymium goggles to his lead-lined plackart. He said, We need an urgent audience with Queen Coral. Let us in.
The guards gave him unimpressed looks. Her Majesty is at the Summer Palace, one said. So you can either stay here or go there. She should be back in about an hour.
Chaetognath narrowed his eyes. We stay here, he decided.
Whirlpool said, With all due respect and a fair amount of undue respect, it would be far more efficient to just go to the summer palace.
Chaetognath bowed his head. That would be the optimal course of action if I could speak Standard Draconic. Unfortunately, I can’t. I suppose you could translate for me, but the meaning could be lost.
Siphonophore said, The queen can speak Aquatic as well!
Chaetognath paused. I suppose that had slipped my mind. Alright, but if this turns into a disaster, I deny all blame. Will you kindly take it?
Whirlpool thought about it, and said, We might need a scapegoat. I recommend the king’s nephew. His name is Vent. He’s very nearly the ideal scapegoat.
Chaetognath shrugged. We will swim across that oceanic ridge when we come to it, he decided. For now, let us go to the Summer Palace. He suddenly stopped, and finished, Ah yes, I forgot. Because of a mutation, my lungs are very weak. I won’t be able to come out of the water for very long before I have to go back underwater and use my gills.
Whirlpool nodded. Let’s go. He beat his tail quickly, swimming straight up. Siphonophore and Chaetognath followed him closely. He headed for the Summer Palace. They entered the hidden cave, and the three of them flew up to the throne room.
Queen Coral and King Gill were hearing requests. A noble, Amplitude if Whirlpool remembered correctly, had a lawsuit to bring against a soldier.
Amplitude’s lawyer cried, “I have thirty witnesses who say you stole my client’s treasure!”
The soldier cried out, “I didn’t! Ask anyone! I’m not a thief!”
Queen Coral raised her claw for silence. “While all the evidence strongly supports you, Deluge, I like Amplitude more, so you are guilty.” Deluge gasped, but bowed his head. “Because of scant evidence, however, you won’t be imprisoned. You are fined one-fourth of the treasure you allegedly stole.”
Whirlpool bowed low, and said, “My apologies, Your Majesty, but there is an urgent state secret I must discuss with you.”
Queen Coral gave him a confused look. “All right, requests adjourned.” She beckoned to them, and they followed her. Gill walked with her, clearly interested. She opened a secret hatch nearby, and they entered the hidden area. Queen Coral closed the door, and asked, “Now what is so important as to necessitate a secret meeting?”
Chaetognath said, Before we begin, I do not know Standard Draconic, so please do not take my usage of Aquatic as an insult.
Queen Coral nodded, and said, I understand, Chaetognath. I am not insulted.
Whirlpool said, using Aquatic so his teacher could listen, We discovered, or invented if you will, a disease which targets certain animals, including dragons—except for SeaWings and RainWings. We don’t know why.
Gill gave them a wary look. How did you learn what it targets?
Siphonophore said, We took samples of cells from the corpses of the different kinds of dragons we wanted to analyze, and whichever cells died were infect-able.
Queen Coral asked, So you have these powerful infectious diseases. Will they be weaponized?
Chaetognath pointed out, That’s your decision. We just make them, and then you decide if you want to use them.
Coral said, Thank you, Chaetognath. Is that all?
Chaetognath nodded. That will be all. The three of them bowed one last time, and they exited the palace.
Whirlpool was very proud of himself. He had advanced his devices to the point at which the queen herself was interested. He was coming far indeed. Let’s see just how far I can push my future. I’ve mastered science. What’s next?
Chapter 17: Reflections
(A Few Months Later)
Whirlpool woke up slowly, well-rested. He no longer had to concern himself with constant threats. Simple empirical evidence had shown as much. When he opened his eyes, he saw his parents looking over his bed at him.
The two of them clearly were excited, although they had managed to temper said excitement. Isopod’s eyes were dilated just like Whirlpool’s when he calculated out a new procedure. Hagfish’s photophores were blinking brilliantly, just like Whirlpool as well. He really did have quite a lot in common with his parents.
Isopod’s eyes shined with pride, or perhaps tears of it. He said, “You’ve come such a long way, Whirlpool. It feels like yesterday that we watched you hatch. And now you’re a personal friend of the queen herself and a brilliant scientist. There can be no higher honor than being your father.”
Hagfish smiled deeply. She said, “You really have. I can literally think of no attribute I could give you that you do not already have. You have brains, noble blood, a future, cunning, an analytical viewpoint, and connections.” She adjusted her smile, and added, “Not to mention your handsomeness.”
Whirlpool climbed out of bed, and stretched. He gave her a quizzical look. “I am handsome? I can’t tell.”
Hagfish nodded. “Definitely. In two years, all the females will be chasing after you.” She smiled. “Of course, I bet you have already picked your future lover. If not, we could always pick her for you. Would you like us to?”
Whirlpool thought about it. It seems my ideal wife is going to have to be a princess. They keep dying, though, so I’ll need to solve the mystery of who killed them. He said aloud, “I’m going to marry a princess, as soon as one survives.”
Hagfish hugged him, tears also filling her eyes. “My little Whirlpool is going to become king! Oh moons, this is wonderful! I’m so proud!”
Whirlpool realized it. He’d been thinking about it for years, of course, but now it was certain. His future was as obvious as a MudWing’s scales, and yet as powerful as an animus NightWing. He was going to become king, and no one alive could stop him anymore.
He hugged his parents again, and left for school. He swam under, the cold water rushing over his gills. He dove down, and entered the lab. Since the meeting with Coral, Chaetognath had essentially given them free reign to conduct any scientific experiments they wanted. He’d already done an autopsy on a SkyWing soldier, which was unambiguously disgusting. Still, they now had valuable information on the enemy’s biology.
Therefore, it was odd that Chaetognath was waiting in the main lab. It was even odder that he appeared pleased. Almost always, when he was pleased he just didn’t complain. To have him apparently ready to display some of it was most irregular. Whirlpool’s interest was piqued.
Chaetognath exclaimed, Some kind or other of greetings, Whirlpool! I have a project for you and Siphonophore to begin work upon. It is located in one of the secret labs.
Whirlpool flashed back, shaken, Is… is that safe? The stuff in there is extraordinarily dangerous, and even with all we’ve learned, I am slightly nervous.
One can’t laugh underwater, but what Chaetognath did came close. Do not demonstrate anxiety! The danger is minimal. I am not deceiving you!
Whirlpool asked, Where is Siphonophore? I can’t see her.
She is already there. Let us go, Whirlpool. With this, he turned and swam away.
Whirlpool followed, excited. Whatever they were working on would certainly be magnificent. He swam in. Siphonophore floated inside the lab. She was clearly excited. She gestured at a microscope, which he looked into. A stringy substance was inside. Whirlpool quizzically looked at Chaetognath. What is it? he asked.
Chaetognath, giggling, exclaimed, It’s refined nuclein! A NightWing first discovered it, but now we have independent confirmation!
Whirlpool asked, What is nuclein for, biologically speaking?
Chaetognath shrugged his wings, and said, I have no idea whatsoever. But the nuclein gap is being closed! Now we are the second or third most scientifically advanced tribe in the world!
Whirlpool grinned. This is wonderful! Miraculous, even!
Chaetognath nodded. He said, clearly to both of them, It is also approximately the ideal time to inform you of a new development. I have decided that you two have, in the three years I have had you under my tutelage, learned most of the art of science from me. Not all, no, there are still secrets I have not divulged, but those are the sort of secrets that I do not so much tell as reveal.
He gave them a meaningful look, and continued, I have placed a scroll in a place which you will find upon my death which details those last great secrets, but until then, I cannot teach you more than you already know. For that reason, with your permission, I would like to graduate you two from my class. What do you say?
Whirlpool thought about it. He could see reasons for both options. He replied, I’ll have to think about it, and definitely discuss it with my parents. Thank you for the offer, though.
Siphonophore said, Hmmmm, this is a very enjoyable class. I love learning, and I can do all kinds of fun scientific experiments. Science isn’t my favorite class, though, so I thank you for the chance to pursue some of the other fields like authorship. I love reading, and I’d love to write too.
Chaetognath gave them a strange look. Alright. You can decide when you want. I will not need you the rest of the day as I am going to compose a treatise. Thank you for your contributions.
Whirlpool saluted, and swam out. He headed home. He had a lot to think about.
Chapter 18: The Decision
Whirlpool sat at home, thinking hard. Since this morning, he’d been fundamentally conflicted about what his path was to be. As much as he adored science, he was a future king, and so he had to be versed in every relevant field. Clearly, science was important, but so were military strategy and public speaking and combat training.
As Whirlpool mused over it, another thought buoyantly floated to the top. Well, I’m already very far advanced in science. I could probably go on to another teacher, but who could teach me? I’ve already been apprenticed by one of the top scientists in the tribe! He was thoroughly befuddled.
I’ll go check with my parents and see what they determine, he decided. They’re more likely to be aware of my future. He went into his father’s lab.
Isopod was pouring vials into other vials intensely. Whirlpool said, “Hello, Father. I have a question I must ask of you.”
Isopod, without looking away, replied, “What is that, Whirlpool? Is it something of concern?”
Whirlpool explained, “My teacher thinks I’m ready to move on from his class. He says he’s taught me most of what he knows and that the remainder is secret and only for his successor. Do you think I should? He said it’s my decision.”
Isopod, still manipulating his chemicals, said, “Well, I recommend you remain with science, and therefore with him. It’s the most important subject now, and you can’t afford to stagnate.” He added, “Of course, this is what I think. Your mother may have very different opinions. I suggest you ask her as well.”
Whirlpool nodded, and said, “Of course, Father. Thank you for your advice.”
Isopod smiled kindly. “I am proud to be able to guide you, Whirlpool. Someday, you will shine brighter than the stars themselves.”
Whirlpool felt a rush of pride flow under his scales. He left the room, and walked down the hallway to his mother’s room. He quietly entered. Steel blades of countless varieties lined the walls. A few filing cabinets of scrolls sat squarely. Over her bed, a small item sat. It was a ring from Queen Scarlet’s own golden chainmail suit.
Hagfish sat calmly at a desk, writing. She looked over at Whirlpool and smiled warmly. “Hello, Whirlpool,” she said. “I’m rather busy, but I think I have some time. What do you want?”
Whirlpool answered, “Hello, Mother. Chaetognath, my teacher, thinks I’m probably ready to move onto another class. Do you think I should?”
Hagfish leaned towards him. “Yes. You’re clearly ready. I am confident that doing so would be a very good idea.”
Whirlpool curled his snout, thinking. He asked, “But who would teach me now? There aren’t that many other geniuses around, and most of them are busy doing whatever interests them.”
Hagfish tapped her snout repeatedly, lost in thought. “Perhaps… perhaps I could have it arranged for you to simply teach yourself. Your friend Siphonophore is in the same predicament. Perhaps the two of you could work together on your studies.”
Whirlpool grinned. “That would be wonderful, Mother! I would greatly like that!”
Hagfish patted his head. “I know you would, Whirlpool. I’ll see what I can do.”
Chapter 19: A Nightmare
Whirlpool hugged Hagfish, and walked back to his room. He spent the rest of the day reading through some scrolls of his, and then prepared for sleep. He jumped in his pool and swam down to his underwater bed.
While he, more often than not, used his surface bed, simply for convenience, it was essential that upon the completion of an era in life that one return, to where they felt most at home. Even if it were from thousands of kilometers away,. One had to remain with tradition on such critical issues. It would be enormously risky to do otherwise.
Whirlpool curled up on the bed, tired. As he lay on the soft mattress of kelp, he reflected on the day’s events. He slowly felt the briny veil of sleep flow over him.
Whirlpool vaguely felt a sort of fog, but this fog didn’t touch his body. It touched his mind. His mind felt somehow less sensitive. He could feel the cold water wafting up from far beneath him. He shivered as its chill slid between his scales. He opened his eyes, and a sense of misgiving flooded him. Something just felt wrong.
It was dark. The great expanse of water surrounding him seemed somehow enhanced, like it was alive. As impossible as it sounded, he knew as certainly as he knew his own name that this dark water was hostile, even malevolent. It knew he was there, and it wanted to consume him.
He noticed Siphonophore also was there. She looked over at him, not fearfully but curiously. Something wrong, Whirlpool? she asked. He tried to articulate his feelings, but they were completely unfounded. There was no reason for him to be so anxious, but he was.
Something shot across the inky blackness below him. Whirlpool looked down at the yawning chasm far below, but he just missed the shadowed construct. A few seconds later, a shadow passed over him, and he looked up. While before it had blended in, here it shielded itself with the blinding sun. He squinted, but it was already gone.
Whirlpool yelled to Siphonophore, What’s that? Did you see that? He looked around frantically, but the thing was evading all detection. He drew closer to her nervously. She spread her wings defensively, peering down.
I don’t see anything, she said uncertainly. Are you sure you aren’t imagining it?
Whirlpool looked down again. There was no sign of the thing which had been there. No…, but I can feel it. Can’t you? This ocean is angry. He felt a kind of pulse, and frantically said, We shouldn’t be here! He felt strangely helpless, a feeling he’d almost never experienced before.
Siphonophore gave him a dubious look. What’s so dangerous? We’re alone here.
Whirlpool looked down. No, we aren’t… something is here, he whispered.
The thing flashed across, too fast for him to see. He vaguely got a sense of awareness, as if it could feel his thoughts themselves. Suddenly, there was a flash of movement. The thing shot upward. Its incorporeal teeth sucked in the light. Whirlpool tried to flee, but his body wouldn’t move. It shot towards him faster then he could have imagined. It struck before he even could scream.
Whirlpool tried to screamed, but he was still underwater. He looked around, terrified, but nothing was there. It was just his quiet kelp bed. There were no ethereal monsters, just the calm ocean around him. He felt the salt around him.
It was just a nightmare, he reassured himself. Monsters like that don’t exist. We dragons are the world’s top predators, and we shouldn’t be so fearful of that which doesn’t exist.
Whirlpool curled up again, still frightened. He closed his eyes, but sleep evaded him.
Chapter 20: Confessions
The next day, Whirlpool swam weakly out of bed. His scales rippled as he shuddered. The memory of what had happened last night surfaced in his mind. He wiped the seawater from his eyes. Well, I’m still alive, Whirlpool mused to himself. He trudged out of the pool, exhausted.
Whirlpool stretched his wings, extending them to full length. Might as well get started, he decided. Whirlpool walked outside and watched the sun rise slowly over the speckled expanse of water. His wings’ dark green scales caught the morning light brilliantly. He dove underwater and shot downwards to the lab, which he quickly entered.
Both his fellow classmate and his mentor waited there. Chaetognath’s expression could only be described as “guardedly neutral.” Siphonophore, however, despite looking like she had just found a horde of treasure, floated in a shadow. He shuddered, thinking of his nightmare.
He reassured himself, It was just a sequence of thoughts. There is no danger of shadowed creatures of darkness consuming us, and water cannot have any morality. It is only a chemical compound. I should not be so irrationally fearful of my own imagination.
Chaetognath nodded to him. Have you made your decision, Whirlpool? he asked swiftly.
Whirlpool nodded. I have, sir. I would like to graduate, but only if Siphonophore is doing the same. He looked over at her. Are you?
Siphonophore nodded. She said, I am. I’m going to teach myself on varied topics.
Whirlpool looked back to Chaetognath. Do you have anything else you’d like to tell us? Perhaps last secrets of your science, or deathbed confessions of your various crimes?
Chaetognath wrinkled his snout. He answered, No, but I do have a message. Once I die, I have made my entire will to the Royal Academy of Science. Be sure to inform them of that.
Whirlpool nodded. Understood. He paused, and continued, Thank you for all you have done to help me.
Chaetognath gave a low bow. It is an honor to teach students as talented as myself. I suspected it would never happen, but I am happily incorrect. I am proud to be your mentor.
Whirlpool replicated the bow. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Siphonophore doing the same. I am proud to have been your student, she said.
As am I, Whirlpool added. He felt a surge of happiness. I didn’t like my old teacher. I find you much more admirable.
Chaetognath said, Goodbye, Whirlpool and Siphonophore. May the dihydrogen monoxide be swift under your fins. The two of them gave him one last wave, and they left.
Whirlpool pointed to the Summer Palace’s entrance. Let’s go there, Siphonophore, he suggested. We can decide what to do once we get there. She nodded her agreement, and shot in front of him. The two of them swam inside the Summer Palace.
Whirlpool looked up at the Summer Palace. For some strange reason, he smiled. This place held many bad memories for him, but apparently his overall impression was positive. He hesitatingly gestured to Siphonophore, and asked her, “Want to go up to the library?”
Siphonophore, seemingly also somewhat uncertain, said, “Umm… alright. Let’s go.” Her scales shimmered like they had captured the sun itself within them. She nodded to him with less conviction than he would have preferred, and she took off.
Whirlpool scratched his snout in bewilderment. What’s gotten into her? It seems to have gotten into me as well, unfortunately. He shrugged, and decided, Well, might as well do this. With a leap of his own, he followed her.
The two of them landed atop the pavilion lightly. Siphonophore looked away cautiously, and asked, “Whirlpool, if I tell you a secret, will you keep it?” She looked at him out of the corner of her eyes and noticed the confused look on his face. She added, “It’s not some kind of tribe security secret. It’s much more… personal.”
Whirlpool said, “Yes, I will. I promise, Siphonophore,” as he looked deep into her reflective eyes. “I swear upon my honor as a SeaWing and a member of the House of Benthic.”
Siphonophore swallowed, hard. “I… I have a crush on you, Whirly.” Now that she had forced it, her words flew on top of each other rapidly like a dam breaking. “I think you’re really smart, and you’re so brave. You figured out who attacked Sponge. You knew your multiplication tables just like I did. You are the only dragon my age I know who I really think of as an equal.” A few of her photophores on her snout lit up, and she finished, “And, you’re, well, attractive.”
Whirlpool reeled at this revelation. He frantically thought, What!? This will not be feasible! I must marry a princess and become king so I can pursue my scientific interests! Love is just a tool for furthering of ends, not a beast released at will! He forced down all of this shock and disbelief and managed to say, “I… wow. I did not expect that.”
Her face looked like he’d forgotten her hatching day. “It’s… it’s alright,” she said in a voice that rang with loss and misery. He thought he saw a sparkle of something in her eyes. It was most likely seawater. “See you later, Whirlpool.” She flew slowly away.
Whirlpool watched her leave. He felt a strange sense of loss as she did. What am I doing? I’ve just caused my best and only friend untold pain! Whether or not I reciprocate her romantic feelings, I need to go talk to her!
Whirlpool flew after her as fast as he could. “Siphonophore, wait!” he cried out anxiously. “I need to talk to you!”
She looked back quickly. “Yes?” she asked. He saw a cocktail of pain, sadness, hope, and happiness brew in her eyes. “What is it, Whirlpool?” she asked.
Whirlpool flew next to her. “I didn’t get to finish earlier.” He saw her anguished expression return, so he hurried on, “I wasn’t expecting that to be your secret. However, I am not sure yet if I feel the same way or not. So, if it’s alright, I’d like to continue with our current plan.” He looked her in the eye. “Is it alright?”
She said, clearly falsely, “I… of course, Whirlpool.”
Whirlpool thought back to how he had acted. “I’m so sorry for replying like that.” He bowed his head, feeling guiltier than he ever had before. “Can you forgive me?”
Siphonophore looked up at him. “I don’t know, but I can try… Whirly,” she whispered.
Whirlpool felt like he had gotten a stomach illness. “Thank you…, Siphon.”
She giggled at his new name for her. “Sometimes you can really be a squid-brain, Whirly,” she half-joked.
Whirlpool laughed. “Yes, I’m aware, Siphon.” For whatever reason, he felt much more comfortable now. “Why don’t we just talk for now? We can read and study later, and it’ll be more productive if we are both in good moods.”
Siphonophore said, more happily, “Alright. We should probably go sit somewhere, otherwise our wings will get tired. How about near the waterfall next to the pavilion?”
Excited, Whirlpool said, “Yes! That would be optimal!” He spiraled down and landed near the edge of the water. She did the same, just behind him.
Whirlpool thought back to everything he and Siphonophore had done together. He said slowly, “Siphon…, I’ve thought about it, and I realized something. I think I too have a crush on you. I don’t know, though. I want to grow up to be king someday, so I don’t see how I could fall in love with anyone else”—he looked into her eyes—“but I guess I’ll figure it out later.”
Siphonophore gave a look which resembled an amalgam of horror and misery. “I… you do?” Whirlpool had never seen a dragon cry before, but it could only be tears that clouded Siphonophore’s eyes. He wasn’t sure why she was crying, but she seemed oddly happy.
He said, “Yes, I do.” With a leap forward, she wrapped her wings around him. He tentatively returned her hug.
“Oh, Whirlpool,” she said softly, as she held him tight. They stayed there for several moments. Once she let go, she smiled warmly at him. He returned her smile.
Whirlpool looked over Siphonophore’s shoulder. Vent stood there, gaping. “Wh-what?!” he stuttered. Whirlpool didn’t even know it was possible for Vent to stutter, but apparently he had accomplished it. “Y-you two are in love?”
Whirlpool shrugged with deliberation. “Apparently,” he said. Vent’s eyes were more dilated than if he had just come out of total darkness.
Vent actually whimpered. “But-but how? I was certain that Siphonophore had a crush on Tripod!” Vent buried his head in his wings. He sobbed, “I SHIPPED TRIPHORE!”
Siphonophore looked down at him like he was a sea slug that had oozed onto her scales. “You did what to what?”
Vent looked up from his wing. He sniffed, “Shipping is where you think two dragons should be in love. It originated in the realm of scrolls. And Triphore is what the romance between you and Tripod is called. Or at least, what it would have been called.” He stuck his head back into his wing.
Siphonophore asked Whirlpool in Aquatic, Do you have any idea what he’s talking about? I sure don’t. He’s being even more pathetic than usual, though.
Whirlpool replied, No, I don’t, but I agree, he is. Let’s just leave him to his “shipping” or whatever it’s called. Whirlpool took off, and heard Siphonophore do the same behind him.
Dawn returned the next morning. The tree had sheltered Whirlpool well. No one had seen him, unless they had a reason to remain hidden themselves. He peered out, checking for anyone nearby. There was only a pig, ambling around on the beach. With a leap forward, he killed it deftly and ate it with one gulp.
Whirlpool hadn’t gone much more than a couple steps before he felt the sorrow of last night descending upon him. He looked down at his talons. A few teardrops trickled down onto them, against his will. He forced back a sob. “Those days were so good,” he whispered. “After all that’s happened, no matter how much it annoyed me back then, I miss how it used to be. I miss Vent’s eccentricity and Ink’s cunning and Sponge’s forethought.
“And without a doubt, I miss Siphon’s razor-sharp mind most of all. I had so much fun with her, so many wonderful adventures. I remember the time she dared me to steal a cow from a MudWing. I don’t think he ever found out that we did it. And the time we watched the sun set over the mainland in midsummer, wings around each other.
“Those were the best years of my life. I wish I had known how fleeting they were to be. They seemed to last forever, but now… now they feel as if they had all happened in a single night, before I could wake up from that wonderful dream of joy and happiness.”
Vision of his past filled his mind. A pile of kelp—the brilliant sunrise over the ocean—a middle-aged SeaWing staring at him—someone telling him it would all be okay—a promise, the most important he had ever made—tears—seeing Anemone, a princess, actually alive—Tsunami calling him a squid-brain like Siphon had—more tears—a jolt of lightning—darkness.
Whirlpool reeled from the memories. They kept coming, tumbling on top of each other like a turbidity current, sucking up the sediment of thoughts and pushing him down. He couldn’t think of anything but the surge of water, a flash of light against blackness, blood spurting out, the healer sadly shaking her head as she told him the news—
No, Whirlpool ordered himself. Get a grip, Whirlpool. You promised her. If you let your grief destroy you, then you will have broken that promise.
Slowly, he came to a realization. “I’ll have to continue my recollections,” he said to himself, with a voice tinged with misery. “And I’ll have to face what I dread.”
Whirlpool looked around. He’d been walking for about half an hour, and there was no sign of the Talons, but that was to be expected. If there were, then they would have soon been eliminated. With a sigh coming from the depths of his lungs, he walked slowly along the beach. The sun was blazing, as if it too sought to show him what he had lost. He did his best to hide his injuries. Any hostile dragon would pick him out instantly if she or he saw them. On the other hand, the Talons probably would too, so maybe it would be a good idea.
Whirlpool sat down again under a different tree, feeling like all the strength had been drained out of him. He covered his eyes and just lay there; he didn’t know for how long. What have I done with my life? he wondered. I’ve been striving for kingship for so long, and it very nearly killed me. It still might. I could have been content with being a scientist or a scholar, but I wanted power. I still want power.
He stood up, a new vitality flowing through him. But I can’t give up that desire now. I would be breaking my promise to her. So I’ll keep fighting for it. I’ll keep trying to be king, because if I don’t, then I would have broken that promise. It is more than just a desire. It’s an oath, and I must follow it. So follow it I will.
Whirlpool lethargically took a step. It felt like he was holding up all of Pyrrhia, but he managed to set his foot down. He took another one, and then another. He slowly walked forward, a new purpose in him.
After a few hours of walking, Whirlpool found a cave. He crawled inside, and lay down. He was sure he would have nightmares after all he had thought about, but it wasn’t as if he could do anything about it. He would go to sleep, whether or not he wanted to. He curled up, trying his best to be comfortable on the sparse vegetation of the cave.
Whirlpool was underwater. The cool, calming waters of the Deep Palace swirled around him. He looked up at his bed. It was even more elegant than he had remembered, with embroidered seaweed, pearls and seashells shining, and glowing stingless jellyfish swimming around it.
With a laugh, he swam out of his room and into the courtyard. When he approached the main gate of the Deep Palace, he saw someone who took his breath away, even underwater.
Siphonophore stood near the entranceway, but something was different about her. She was much older—from her looks, his age—and the prettiness of her youth had blossomed into full dragoness beauty. She smiled charmingly at him, and offered her claw. Want to go for a swim, Whirly? she asked. Lights can’t have tone, but he knew that her request was meant in a romantic one.
He answered, Of course, Siphon! It’s so good to see you again! A voice in the back of his mind was nagging at him, but he pushed it away. Such voices had, for years, been his only companions.
She gave him a confused look. With a skeptical voice, she asked, Again? You saw me just yesterday! Honestly, you can be such a squid-brain!
A chill, colder than the deepest currents, shot down Whirlpool’s spine. He said, Wait… no… this is a dream. You—you— He couldn’t finish. It was too painful. No! he cried out. You aren’t here! Stop!
She looked at him, surprised. With a kind, gently sharp voice, she asked, Are you having another one of your memory lapses? You have them a lot. Once you had one where Burn won. Another time, you became Blister’s royal scientist. They can be very strange, and the healers aren’t sure why you get them. It could be because of that injury you got two years back.
Whirlpool slowly felt a creeping dread enter him. In-injury? If the answer was what he thought it was, then something was truly wrong here.
Siphonophore stroked his head softly. It’s worse than I thought, she sadly said. Do you even remember our wedding?
Whirlpool looked at her, love, loss, and wild hope mixing within him. We’re—married? he asked, shocked. She nodded, and hugged him warmly.
Could this be true? he asked himself. Could she really have married me? Was my whole life after… what happened, just a delusion caused by my brain damage? No, it can’t be! I wasn’t brain-damaged! Unless… unless I falsely remember that injury too. Maybe… maybe I have lived a happy life!
Oh, Whirly… Siphonophore held him tight. Everything, from the way the slight curve of her snout brushed against the back of his neck to the fold of her wings, was just as he had remembered it had been and imagined it would be.
She smiled at him, her tidal eyes sparkling like sapphires, and he could feel his heart melting like a rodent thrown into a vat of acid. He asked, finally, Siphon… tell me, I implore you. Tell me of the life I have forgotten, so that I may enjoy it once more.
She said, Of course, Whirly. But we would do well to tell it upon the surface, for it would be easier to give emotion there. He agreed, and the two of them swam to the Summer Palace. She lay down on some rocks, her head just out of the water, and he on a sandbar beside her.
“Whirly, it is a long tale, for there is no way to capture every wonderful moment when two dragons are in love, but I need to know what the last true memory you have was,” his lover explained. “Do you remember us sitting atop the canopy of the Summer Palace at sunset when we were seven? It would have been a couple weeks before that injury.”
Whirlpool opened his mouth to say yes, but something stopped him. Do I want to say yes? he asked himself. Here I am, talking to my lover, which should be impossible, who tells me something which happened two years ago, with no memory of how I got here. What if this is not true? Could it all be some trap of a telepathic dream-crafting NightWing who seeks to confuse me? The more I share with her, the more ‘she’ can mimic Siphon. And who would want to mimic my lover? Only a truly cruel dragon, who enjoys watching dreams be realized, and then crush them.
He looked at Siphonophore’s kind, sweet, attractive eyes. But what if it is truly her? Then I would be giving up what I have spent the past two years regretting—or at least what I think I have spent the last two years regretting. I can’t risk losing the only dragon I ever loved again. Not after all I’ve done in her name. After a pause, he decided. I’ll take the risk. I have to.
He forced a real-sounding laugh. “Of course I do! You dared me to go up there, and then I accidentally fell through the canopy and almost hit the pavilion before I managed to regain my balance. I never lived that down. It became a running joke among the nobles.”
She nodded. “You do? Then… what’s the first break between what you think happened and what really happened?”
Whirlpool was almost sure of the answer. “I think… I think it was that injury. I remember that you were the one who got attacked, not me…”
Siphonophore gazed at him. “Maybe that was it,” she whispered. “Does everything from that point on follow logically from it?”
Whirlpool thought back to everything since then. There were no strange, unexplained events that he could think of. Absolutely none, unlike here. “I think it does,” he said finally. “It really does.” With a supreme force of will, he looked deep into her eyes. Under their beauty and intelligence, there was something… stranger, a sort of formlessness.
He continued, forcefully, “A bit more logically, actually, than your explanation. You’ve been acting oddly, more like the Siphon I hoped for than the Siphon that I remembered. You took my strange memories as though they were completely normal, and you have been so, so affectionate. More affectionate than I can ever remember, actually. And you are beautiful, more beautiful than a RainWing enarmored with diamonds. More beautiful than any dragon could be.
“I don’t think you’re really the Siphonophore I fell in love with. I think you’re just a mirage, an illusion, a fantasy. Maybe you’re some NightWing’s sick idea of a joke, to conjure up my greatest desire just as I wanted it and make me get lost in it and see if I ever figure it out. Part of me wishes I hadn’t, so I could spend my whole life lost in this wonderful, perfect dream. But the truth must be found, and I have found it.”
He expected her to fly into a rage, or try to counter his points, or just conquer his mind. She did none of those things. Instead, something glistened in her eyes. Surely it wasn’t a tear.
Siphonophore said, somehow both sadly and happily, “I will not say if this is indeed a dream or an illusion, or if what you remember was, but I hope that no matter what happens—whether you return to reality, or fall back into your madness—that you will find happiness and love, whether that be here or there.”
She embraced him tightly. “If it is a dream, then it is not induced by another. If it is, than the one who granted you this joy was your own subconscious, and that subconscious is speaking through me even now, to keep you happy.” Tears were pouring out of her eyes, beyond any doubt. “I will someday see you again, Whirly, whether that be in another dream or in another break from your delusions. And that is not because I seek to dominate you or experiment on your mind, but because I truly love you, Whirly.”
He felt himself crying too, and hoped that it was not a dream. By the moons, let this be real, he begged to the universe. He watched everything going cloudy, but Siphonophore held him tightly even as he felt dizziness overwhelm him.
Whirlpool woke up, hugging a large rock next to him. He looked around. He was back in his cave, with no sign of Siphonophore. “On the other hand, I didn’t have any of my burns when I was there,” he noted. "Dream or not, I must continue my journey here, just as I must beg Siphonophore for forgiveness if I see her again. No, not if. When.”
He stood up, and flew southward. As he flew, his memories, refreshed by seeing her, flooded back into him.
Part Three: Tribunal of Penace
Chapter 21: Questions of Provenance and Purpose
The attack on the Summer Palace was only one day ago, but panic still lingered in the air. Most of the Seawings had fled to the deep palace, but others had swum out towards the mainland, presumably to alert the rest of the kingdom of what has happened.The chaos from before seemed random, yet almost predictable.
How could panic be predictable?
This idea bothered him. Not like a normal nuisance, such as a commoner's ideals, but one that gets under your scales. Something that Whirlpool hadn't felt for a long time.
Yet he could understand the patterns of it all, every last variable. As if he could plot it on a graph.
Sitting here in confusion won't help me pursue my goal. Reminiscing on feelings never helped anyone.
It took all the strength he could muster, but Whirlpool pressed on, unaware of what would soon follow him.