Because Orca doesn't deserve all the hate she gets.
- WARNING* May contain minor to moderate blood and gore as the story progresses.
Part 1: Innocence
I was running.
I could hear something crashing through the dense, tangled undergrowth behind me. Panting. Calling something. My name?
I leaped over a boulder, my claws scrabbling on the rough surface. The thing was right behind me. I could sense it. Suddenly, just ahead, the pale gold sands of the beach came into view, and just beyond them, the ocean. Hurtling out of the forest, I bounded across the sand and sprang into the cool blue water.
There was a splash behind me. Whatever the thing was, it could swim. I felt its claws grab one of my hind legs and spin me around. Closer... closer... one more second and I'd be able to see what it was --
I woke with a start, my gills flaring in and out rapidly in a panic and my stripes flashing nonsensical patterns. It took me a moment to realize I was safe in my bed of kelp in my sleeping chamber at the Deep Palace, and I was not being chased.
This nightmare had plagued me for the last few weeks, ever since I had arrived at the Deep Palace with the rest of the royal family. It had started off as a simple dream of being tailed through a forest by something I couldn't see. Over the nights, it had developed into a nightmare, and recently, I had ended up being caught by the thing - but always awoke before I saw what it was.
The dream had left me too riled to sleep, so I slipped out of bed and swam over to the mirror that hung on the rocky wall, surrounded by assorted small shellfish. The flecks of mica in the wall glimmered as I adjusted the pearl strands around my neck, then swam to the door, nudged the sea grass curtain across it aside, and headed out into the canyon of the Deep Palace.
Once outside, I blinked a couple of times to clear out my sleep-weary third eyelids. Reddish clouds of krill were swarming in the upper layers of the water, an indication that it was still too early for anyone to be up. I shook my head and swam towards a cavern at the far end of the canyon, surrounded by a brightly colored coral garden. Its cheerful tones were muted in the dim light and the partial colorblind-ness of my night vision, but the large polished, carved stones set above the entrance were as noticeable as ever.
I made my way into the enormous room. Shelves upon shelves of water-treated scrolls marched back into the brightly lit cave, and scattered around were numerous boulders and pieces of coral carved into the shapes of chairs and piles of seaweed. With a swish of my tail, I hurried over to the section of scrolls marked A and pulled a thick volume off of the shelf. It was labeled The Summer Palace of the Sea: A Complete History, Revised Edition by Archipelago IV of Scute Island, a large island in the north of the Bay of a Thousand Scales. This was a scroll I'd wanted to read for a while, but until recently it had always been checked out.
Curling up in a coral chair, I opened the waterproofed, wax-covered scroll and began to read.
The Summer Palace of the Sea is located on Queen's Isle, known to the rest of the tribes as simply "a small island", in the Bay of a Thousand Scales. Surrounded by lush jungles and deep water, it is very difficult for a dry-scales to find. In fact, no one except a SeaWing has set foot in it for the past three hundred years, since it was built without the knowledge of the other tribes.
I smiled slightly. "Dry-scales" was an outdated term for a dragon who wasn't a SeaWing; this scroll must be somewhat old.
To most SeaWings, the Summer Palace has been there forever, a monument to the skill and tenacity of the dragons of Queen Cockle's court. Queen Ripple, the current queen, has taken steps to restore the inside of the palace in certain well-trodden areas to keep up this image, the scroll continued. Queen Ripple was Queen Coral's mother and my grandmother; it must be older than I thought. No matter. I liked reading old books. Adjusting my wings into a more comfortable position, I kept reading, intrigued.
But how did it really get there? Of course, it wasn't always on Queen's Isle. Someone had to have built it. But who could have done such a thing? Even master stonecarvers couldn't have shaped the rocks into the flowing forms we see today.
Let me back up and explain the events that led up to the creation of the Summer Palace. . .
The scroll was quite interesting. After skimming the synopsis of the planning of the Palace, my eyes landed on a paragraph shortly after the explanation of how it seemed no one could build the proposed design without its collapse at the seams between the pieces of stone. It was a new chapter.
Enter Prince Albatross, the mastermind behind the palace's design and planning. Albatross was hatched in 357 AS, to Queen Cockle and her mate, King Sunfish. As a young dragon, he began to notice signs of an unusual power - the power to levitate, enchant, and command inanimate objects. He coined the term 'animus' to describe his abilities. However, it was not until after numerous faliures to build the spiraling tendrils of stone that are the hallmark of the Summer Palace's design that he thought of using his powers to cause the stone to grow into one perfect shape. Previous designs had utilized large pieces of stone that were mortared together, causing stress fractures around the seams that led to the collapse of the structure.
Heartened, the prince set off to the under-construction Palace and presented his idea. The chief architects and builders of the time welcomed his plan with open wings, as they were facing punishment from Queen Cockle if they did not complete the palace by the given deadline, which was only a few weeks away* (see the notes in the back of the book for more details).
I usually skipped the notes, so I continued with the story of Albatross.
Albatross was escorted into the unfinished pavilion, where he enchanted the stone to grow. For three days, he stood at the base of the slowly growing structure, telling the rocks precisely what to do. At the end of the last day, when the pavilion was finally finished growing, Albatross collapsed from sheer exertion and was taken to the Deep Palace for healing.
After waking from a coma a week later, there was a noticeable change in the prince's behavior. He became more violent, more moody, prone to lash out at anyone who came near him. One day, one of the younger servants was mysteriously murdered, and the weapon used - a stone knife - was found in Albatross's posession. When a troop of twenty guards was sent to question him, he viciously killed them all and escaped. For a month, he hid in the dark passages of the palace, and five more dragons, three servants, one a son of one of the nobles in the court, and one a visiting lord, were brutally attacked, two of these in their own sleeping chambers. Two of the servants and the lord did not die at the scene of the attack, but shortly after from wounds sustained. Soon, it was discovered that Albatross was behind these murders, and a trap was set for him* (see notes). Albatross was captured and executed in 369 AS, at the age of twelve.
This was interesting. I hadn't known that Albatross had actually succeeded in killing anyone, and the history of the Summer Palace probably got even more interesting from there. Unfortunately, my eyes were getting sore from staring at writing, and I was tired from waking up in the middle of the night. Tucking the scroll under one wing, I got up, headed over to the checkout log, signed my name on one of the lines, and swam out of the library, back to my room. I had barely clambered back into bed when I fell asleep.
Someone was prodding me in the gills.
I rolled over, blinking my eyes open, and jerked back in surprise. Mother was standing over me, her eyes narrowed and her cobalt-blue scales gleaming.
You overslept, Orca. Lord Tunicate and his family got here two hours ago! You were supposed to be at the welcoming feast! she flashed quickly in Aquatic.
Tunicate was visiting? My eyes flew open and I catapulted out of bed. Is the feast still going on?
Mother blinked. It is. But there probably isn't much food left --
I never saw the last of her statement -- I had hurtled out of the chamber in a cloud of small bubbles and down the wall of the ravine towards the feasting hall.
The hall was brightly lit by various bioluminescent animals and phosphorescent minerals placed at strategic intervals around the rocky walls. Long, polished pieces of black stone had been set up as tables and servants swam back and forth, speaking rapidly to each other in Aquatic and clearing away empty shell plates. Groups of nobles and members of the court sat on carved coral benches or floated in relaxed positions, conversing about things I had no interest in.
Ignoring the other dragons and food that was still set out, I scanned the room for dark blue-gray scales and a couple small flashes of orange. The one dragon I was looking for didn't seem to be here.
A deep turquoise dragon swam up to me, a bit nervously. Er. . . hi, Orca. . .
I cocked my head at him. He was one of my mother's guards or soldiers, although his name escaped me. Hello.
I was wondering. . . -- he adjusted his wings nervously -- if you might want to, er, sit with me and my friends? He gestured towards a nearby table with several dragons seated around it.
Maybe another time, sorry. I'm looking for someone.
Oh. Well, okay. He swam back over to his friends.
I turned in a circle. Where was he? If Tunicate and the rest of his family were here, shouldn't he be? I hadn't seen him for so long, at least half a year now.
There was a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye. I spun around hopefully. There he was, in the entrance, his scales lit up by the pale blue bioluminescent light and the orange streaks on his face gleaming.
Tern, I said, a huge grin stretching across my face.
Hey, Orca, he said, spreading his claws a bit just before I launched myself across the room and into his wings.
Characters (in order of appearance)